24 Jul 2020

Covid-19 recovery: Hamilton city takes on more debt, cuts rates

12:48 pm on 24 July 2020

The Hamilton City Council has approved $1.2 million in funding for its economic recovery from the Covid-19 epidemic.

Hamilton mayoral candidate Paula Southgate

Hamilton Mayor Paula Southgate. Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

The funding includes $465,000 for a community welfare package, $100,000 for a economic innovation project, $100,000 for rates relief, $250,000 for local business support, $280,000 for a rates rebate scheme and $40,000 for Waikato Food Inc.

Mayor Paula Southgate said it was vital the city looked after its people.

"A number of us on the council recognised we needed to listen to the voice of ratepayers that were saying 'could you help up out here?'," Southgate said.

"That is what we have done here."

The council also approved an additional $353,000 in order to pay all staff directly employed by the council the living wage $22.10/hour for the coming year and voted to drop average rate increase from 3.8 percent to 2.8 percent.

Southgate said the council believed the right thing to do was lower the impact of the rates on people in the current climate.

She said council has pulled "a lot of levers" to drive rates down while continuing to invest in and support the city.

"Covid-19 has thrown us a curveball and we have been forced to be agile and adapt accordingly. But council felt a slight softening of the rates was justified given the extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves in and given the community feedback we have had."

She said council would have to keep a firm grip on the 2021/31 long-term plan which was the "real" opportunity to fundamentally change direction if that was required.

"We do need to keep an eye on the detail with the long-term plan coming up because there may indeed be a case for pulling back in terms of quantum and speed of spend. We can't be afraid to do things differently and to take a hard look at fundamentals including how we respond to growth."

Council is now forecasting a balancing the books deficit of $4m in the 2020/21 financial year with a debt level of $631m.

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