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Like everywhere else, South Canterbury has been sent reeling by the unprecedented Covid-19 crisis but the district’s mayors are already thinking and planning for the recovery. Courier reporter Chris Tobin sought their views.

TIMARU MAYOR NIGEL BOWEN

Q. Do you have any idea of the financial impact of Covid-19 on the district?

No analysis has been done and it really is too early to tell. There will be a lot of factors at play on how quick the economy can turn around based on restrictions to business and financial support from central government and the shape of what that might look like.

We are in a strong position with the make-up of our business with a strong primary sector and large food-type manufacturing and a reasonably high amount of central workers at 55%.Q. How do you think the lockdown has gone in your district? Has it been a success or too severe?

I believe most people have played their part. We are all on the same path so we have to stay the course.

Q. What impact will it all have on council projects? Will some have to be put back?

Overall we are looking to accelerate our projects as we understand these play a key role in rebuilding the economy and we will look at all our spend and what role that may play strategically in regeneration of the economy.

Q. What do you think will be of importance to help ensure a swift recovery?

Swiftness will be key, both as a reality to rebuilding the district’s economy and also the key messaging that this sends to the community. There will be a lot of people unemployed and the districts that seize every opportunity will be the strongest facing lower unemployment and lower social and psychosocial issues.

There is a great opportunity for our society to come out of this in time a lot better off, with a more caring people-centric society where people’s wellbeing is put before profit.

Q. What is the outlook for rates this year and for the next few years?

Rates for the annual plan don’t need to be signed off until June so we are currently modelling the effects of Covid-19 on council income, just like all businesses and households are. We will see a reduction in user fees and charges in areas such as the airport, pools, waste and other areas that will see a reduction of income of possibly millions of dollars. At the same time we will also have a reduction in costs to deliver some of those services.

Once we have all the data we will relook at the annual budget and have some firm information for residents. We certainly understand the hurting in both the economy and at home for our residents and are looking at all possible options to help those in need and maintain a sustainable delivery of our service. What will be key to the next few years is how closely both central and local government can work in partnership to deliver timely infrastructure that focuses on job creation and sustaining jobs for the longer term.

WAIMATE MAYOR CRAIG ROWLEY

Q. Do you have any idea of the financial impact of Covid-19 on the district

Providing a dollar value would only be a wild guess and unhelpful. We have data that indicates we have 73% of our district’s workforce remaining in full employment, and we have 33% of our population above the age of 65 on fixed incomes. We have common concerns with the rest of New Zealand for the resilience and viability of the retail and hospitality sectors and this is no different for our local business owners. We are lucky to be a rural community. However the medium to long-term viability will depend on the existence of a market to sell our goods and services and patronage of our retail outlets.

Q. How do you think the lockdown has gone?

The people of the Waimate district are very caring and possess a high degree of common sense and have abided by the Government directions to stay home and save lives. The community has rallied together to provide welfare assistance for those who require help. I would like to make mention to all the essential workers in the Waimate district who have gone above and beyond. This has not gone unnoticed by our community. We believe the lockdown has had a positive result on what could have been much worse in terms of public health, but we have a long way to go.

Q. What impact will it all have on council projects? Will some have to be put back?

Council has made no decision to reduce its planned operations or capital works programme; every dollar we spend with suppliers or contractors has a multiplier effect which energises the local economy.

Q. What do you think will be of importance to help ensure a swift recovery?

To support a joint effort to assist with welfare activities and not ignore the need for universal basic income or income support to protect against social harm and unrest. To energise our economic development function to work with other organisations in support of our small to medium businesses and get our community back to work.

Q. What is the outlook for rates this year and for the next few years?

Council will be making careful consideration on what the appropriate level of rates are given the current economic disruption. It is important that council protects its income to ensure it continues to provide services that are essential to keeping people healthy and safe.

Roads and the Three Waters activities account for 60% of our budget. The planning and delivery of these activities span three long-term plan cycles and will require regular review assessed against the ever-changing economic climate. It would be helpful if central government amended the Local Government Act to enable local government to swiftly adjust budget forecasts in accordance with the fluctuating economic environment.

MACKENZIE MAYOR GRAHAM SMITH

Covid-19 has undeniably set the tone for unprecedented times in the Mackenzie.

While tourism businesses have been severely impacted by Alert Level 4 restrictions, so has every other part of our local economy been affected.

Operators and business owners are already working through their options of what the immediate and longer term

Council is supporting businesses through our partnership with South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce and encourages them to contact the chamber to make sure they are accessing all the support available.

International borders might remain closed for some time and we are hopeful that New Zealanders will take the opportunity when alert levels fall to holiday at home.

There’s a real opportunity to tap into domestic tourism while the international market recovers.

We are working closely with our partners Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism to promote the Mackenzie as a destination.

We also have a thriving agricultural sector. Our farmers have also been affected by this crisis, but they have weathered many a storm.

They will no doubt come out stronger through this too and continue to be the engine of the rural economy.

Our council’s recovery team is working closely with our partners in the community and business sector on a recovery plan. We are working hard to ensure our communities are looked after and our projects under the long-term plan like water and roading remain on track.

At the same time, we are looking at other employment-generating projects and will be working with central government to inject much-needed cash into our local economy.

Council is looking at how rates could potentially be used as a tool to alleviate some of the burden.

We would like to ensure that our council also has a longer-term focus, while continuing to maintain our roads, water and other essential services.