Unvaccinated Northland ratepayers warned not to expect rates reduction

8:10 am on 4 December 2021

Unvaccinated Whangārei ratepayers barred from council facilities under New Zealand's new traffic light Covid-19 Protection Framework should not be expecting their rates to be reduced as a result.

Northern Districts security guard Durhy Turner scans Margaret Johnson into WDC's Whangārei central library.

Northern Districts security guard Durhy Turner scans Margaret Johnson into WDC's Whangārei central library. Photo: NORTHERN ADVOCATE/ Tania Whyte

That was the message from Whangārei District Council (WDC) as the North moved into its first days under the new regime. Northland's two other districts councils - Kaipara and Far North - are also restricting access to some facilities to those not double vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Northland Regional Council is looking into vaccination requirements for its staff who work with schools.

Ratepayers made their own choices around being vaccinated and presenting vaccination passes, WDC chief executive Rob Forlong said.

"There is no rates reduction for ratepayers who choose not to be vaccinated and thus face restricted use of council amenities... every effort is being made to ensure those without passes can still access the services they need in compliant ways," he said.

"Ratepayers can choose to be vaccinated and to present vaccination passes to access the Whangārei central library or Tarewa i-SITE visitor information centre, or they may choose not to. Either way, these services at these venues are still being offered - subject to the passes.

"Central government has given all New Zealanders - councils, businesses, government departments, the community - guidelines to follow to help achieve this," Forlong said.

"Our objective is to keep our community - staff, contractors and customers - safe by following the rules needed to reduce the spread of Covid-19."

Unvaccinated people are barred from selected ratepayer-funded and maintained council facilities across the region, with My Vaccine Passes the key to maintaining current access levels.

These include WDC's Forum North headquarters.

"Vaccine Passes are required in Forum North's event spaces and event holders must comply with government requirements. The area is cordoned off when not in use," Forlong said.

"We are following central government guidelines and mandates and that has meant we have had to change the way we deliver some of our services."

Kaipara District Council is looking at whether My Vaccine Passes will be needed to camp at Kai Iwi Lakes this summer.

Kaipara District Council is looking at whether My Vaccine Passes will be needed to camp at Kai Iwi Lakes this summer. Photo: NZME

Unvaccinated people are also barred from Far North District Council (FNDC)'s Te Ahu centre in Kaitāia from Friday.

Access to Kaipara District Council (KDC)'s Kai Iwi Lakes' Taharoa Domain campground - one of Northland's biggest and fully booked over Christmas - is also under the spotlight.

KDC general manager people and capability Hannah Gillespie said KDC was not currently requiring visitors to show their vaccination passports.

But this was under review as part of a risk assessment for council campgrounds, currently being carried out.

Aucklanders will soon be among those flocking to iconic campground that attracts thousands of visitors.

"...We are completing a risk assessment underway at the moment. In the meantime all our (council) campgrounds are operating as per the accommodation red guidelines under the Covid 19 protection framework ," Gillespie said.

Kai Iwi's Lake Waikere education centre is also only accessible for those who are double vaccinated and can show their vaccination passport.

Those without vaccine passports are also barred from the Northern Wairoa Memorial Hall in Dargaville.

Northland's four councils - also including Northland Regional Council (NRC) were all grappling with the first day of the new system. The unvaccinated were barred from WDC's Tarewa i-SITE visitor information centre for safety reasons, Lesley Ashcroft, WDC customer services manager said.

"We welcome our visitors and we want to keep them and our own people safe. The vaccine pass is required because the building is multipurpose. The café inside the i-SITE is operating with a vaccine pass requirement and there is no way to physically separate access to or airflow between the café and i-SITE," Ashcroft said.

"We are working on additional security to assist with the transition to the new arrangements. Everyone in the Tarewa i-SITE, including staff and customers, over the age of 12 years will need to show a vaccine pass before they are allowed entry," she said.

WDC has also formally approved a new policy that only people with Covid-19 vaccination certificates be allowed to attend council-run events in any council-owned and managed venue.

Unvaccinated ratepayers and others will also be barred from a cluster of FNDC services from early January.

FNDC chief executive Shaun Clarke, said vaccination passports would be required at council service centres, libraries and i-SITE visitor information centres from 10 January. These included service centres in Kaikohe, Kerikeri and Rāwene along with service centres and libraries at Kawakawa's Te Hononga and in Kaeo; Bay of Islands i-SITE visitor information centres in Paihia and in Hokianga at Ōpononi; Kerikeri's Procter library plus council libraries in Kaikohe and Paihia.

"The council is delaying the requirement for my vaccine passes ... until 10 January to give customers time to organise passes or to find out about alternative ways of accessing council services," Clarke said.

Unvaccinated people will also be barred from Far North public swimming pools operated on behalf of FNDC in Kaitāia, Kerikeri and Kawakawa with vaccination passports required from yesterday.

Kaikohe's public pool had not opened for its seasonal summer use.

NRC chief executive Malcolm Nicolson said council staff working with schools were currently the only group where required vaccination was being considered.

"The only people at NRC currently impacted by the government health order are those working with schools. We have a number of staff across the organisation who work with schools such as Enviroschools and biosecurity staff," Nicolson said.

Nicolson said he was in consultation with staff and elected members in teams such as the council's environmental education and biosecurity teams who worked with schools.

"I am still in consultation with my staff and elected members so have no comment at this time," Nicolson said.

KDC is currently reviewing which roles may potentially require vaccination.

Gillespie said KDC was consulting with staff on proposed mandated roles.

"Council is starting consultation with all employees and there are no pre-determined outcomes," Gillespie said.

In terms of governance, there no councillors or community board members had lost their jobs as a result of being unvaccinated.

"No councillors or community board members have lost their jobs," she said.

FNDC did not respond when asked about staff vaccination mandating and whether there would be job losses for the unvaccinated in any roles where people occupying roles were this was required.

Meanwhile, WDC is setting up online click and collect for people without a vaccine pass or those who do not want to enter the Whangārei central library.

WDC offices are open with vaccination passports not required, but all visitors must wear a mask and maintain physical distance.

Forlong said the new protection framework also impacted playing community sports on WDC parks.

"Although gatherings of 25 people - vaccinated or unvaccinated - will be permitted, sports codes should check with their regional bodies to see how this might impact on their sport prior to making bookings on council sports fields," Forlong said.

He said WDC had also been forced to cancel many of the district's usual Christmas events because they could not be held in ways that would comply with rules in the new protection framework's red and orange tiers.

Nicolson said his council had put steps in place to ensure its services were unaffected, regardless of employees' vaccination status.

Vaccination passes weren't required at NRC service centres, but the council had requirements around wearing masks, scanning in and social distancing.

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