Covid-19 forces rethink of Grey District council budget

2:33 pm on 20 April 2020

Covid-19 and its financial fallout has forced a rapid rethink of the Grey District Council annual plan.

Grey District mayor Tania Gibson

Grey District mayor Tania Gibson Photo: Supplied

Mayor Tania Gibson says a question mark now hangs over all the council's draft estimates for spending, revenue and rates with the Coast economy in the doldrums because of the shutdown.

"We had a draft plan for the year under way but things have changed, and we are desperately trying to work out a way of doing what we need to do, and still keep the rates as low as we can."

The council was keen to avoid scrapping major projects on its books for the coming year -- and with the help the government was offering, hoped to go ahead despite the downturn, Gibson said.

"In some areas we may have to halve what we had planned to do, but in others, we could do more if the government comes to the party.

"We were going to just build one new water reservoir at Cobden this year; that's a million dollar project, but if we get the infrastructure help they are offering we could also build one of the two reservoirs planned for the Greymouth side."

That could create up to 100 jobs at a time they were badly needed, the mayor said.

"Some people might say we should tighten our belts completely and spend nothing but for years councils have kept the rates low to get re-elected, while essential infrastructure deteriorated and we can't go on doing that."

Councils had been warned by Local Government NZ that if they did not spend more on services like water, the government would take those responsibilities off them.

"At the same time we know our ratepayers can't afford to pay higher rates, especially now, so it's a really difficult balancing act," Gibson said.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP - don't show up at a medical centre

The council would try to ease the pain for struggling ratepayers, post-Covid, with rates postponement and repayment schemes, and by waiving penalties, she said.

"We may have to borrow to get through this - our self-imposed debt limit is $30 million but we could go above that if we have to."

The council was hoping that the lockdown restrictions would have eased by mid-year when submissions were due on the annual plan, and that members of the public would be able to appear in person as usual to make their submissions, she said.

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