The Northland Regional Council (NRC) says it is doing all it can to ensure it’s ready as the nation enters the next phase of the central government response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Council chair Penny Smart says just like the rest of the nation, councillors had adapted quickly to the Level Four lockdown restrictions and were now collectively turning their attention to how the April 28 Level 3 status would impact the organisation.
The council’s crucial functions had continued throughout the pandemic, including environmental monitoring deemed critical to ensuring the health and wellbeing of Northland communities, ensuring maritime navigational safety, flood and drought monitoring, and management and supporting critical Civil Defence work.
Civil Defence emergency management in the region is co-funded and staffed by all four local authorities (including the NRC) and team members have been liaising with regional stakeholders, emergency services, Northland DHB, key suppliers of food and water, volunteer groups, national agencies, iwi and the National Emergency Management Agency throughout both the pandemic and ongoing regional drought response.
As part of that, a team of Northland Civil Defence staff has been supported by staff from all four councils, working from a range of locations.
Elsewhere, regional council subsidiary, Northland Inc, the North’s Regional Economic Development Agency and Regional Tourism Organisation, has been assisting in a business continuity capacity to help a variety of Northland companies impacted by the Level 4 lockdown and would continue to do so under Level 3.
Chair Smart says while Level 3 was effectively the start of central government’s intention to gradually and carefully ease the nation out of the most stringent pandemic-related restrictions, the regional council was determined to do its best to support those restrictions during the transitional period.
“You may notice increased numbers of regional council staff returning to the field under the Level Three restrictions, particularly in our core areas of environmental monitoring and enforcement, flood management, biosecurity land management activities.”
During Level 3 councillors would continue to work remotely as this had proven to be an effective way for them to continue to conduct governance business.
Chair Smart says while the world had then changed more or less overnight, local authorities’ ongoing responsibilities to plan to provide a number of services essential to keeping people and communities healthy and safe had not.
“We’ve accepted a number of late submissions on our Annual Plan and the very real concerns our communities have about Covid-19’s impact are being factored into our considerations.”
The council had already brought forward its planned meeting to consider submissions and adopt its Annual Plan and – after initially hoping to do this at the end of April – the associated financial complexities meant this would now happen early May.
Councillors would keep the public fully informed on their plans (including around rates) going forward and wanted to reassure the community they had heard its calls for financial constraint.
“However, while we appreciate rates bills are just one of a number of critical financial considerations for people, if rates are not paid our region’s ability to collectively recover from this pandemic will be less rapid, harder and even more expensive next year.”
At this point, the advice from the regional council was still for those experiencing financial hardship to contact their local district council (which collected regional council rates on its behalf) to discuss their circumstances and arrange a payment.
“Regional council has continued to engage strongly with central government on behalf of our region to ensure we get our fair share of its available funding to ensure our regional economic can recover as quickly as possible post-Covid.
Councillors urged people to heed central government’s request to stay home, stay safe, look after each other and stay up-to-date with official guidance at covid19.govt.nz