Hamilton City Council has announced a sweeping 12-point plan to help the city withstand the economic and social ravages expected from COVID-19.
The Council approved phase one of the programme today, costed at $3.4M. Phase two is still to come and will involve government, city businesses, and potentially bringing forward a suite of multi-million dollar capital projects already planned for the city.
Council also asked staff to cost up a series of potential rating options for 2020/21 and their implications for ratepayers. Today’s package already includes rates relief to target the city’s most vulnerable.
Today’s plan was pulled together in the past week after the Council asked Chief Executive Richard Briggs and his team to develop a recovery plan for the city. Councillors today approved eight key initiatives and asked for more work to be done immediately on four more. Today’s package includes:
- Social service funding support
In addition to Council’s current community grants ($440,000) make a further $1M available to community groups, aligned to the $1M fund announced by the Waikato Community Funders Group. Work has already begun to support city welfare services (food banks, meals on wheels) during Alert Level 4.Effective immediately: Estimated cost: $1M.
- Early payments to suppliers
The Council will bring forward payments to all suppliers (due 20 April 2020) to be paid immediately to help with immediate cashflow needs.Effective immediately: Estimated cost: $0.
- Consent fees relief and refunds
Full refunds will be offered to anyone who wants to cancel a building consent or resource consent application. It is likely this would apply to all consents accepted and paid prior to 24 March 2020.Effective immediately: Estimated cost: $460,000.
- Rent relief
Council will waive rent for community groups and businesses that are unable to pay rent. This will include community groups, sports clubs, businesses operating from council facilities (such as cafes), and other businesses that can demonstrate hardship. This will apply until 2020 and will then be reviewed.Effective immediately: Estimated cost: $525,000.
- Rates remissions
Hamilton City Council is one of few councils that offer additional assistance to low income earners. Council will extend its own rates rebates scheme to include those who have recently lost their jobs and don’t have savings. The government currently rebates up to $640 and the Council up to $549 of residential rates. This impacts around 3,000 householders.Effective from June 2020: Estimated cost: $280,000.
- Development contributions relief
Some development contribution payments – paid by developers to help pay for infrastructure – will be deferred. This is targeted at small businesses and homeowners, rather than large developers.Effective immediately: Estimated cost $800,000 (to be recovered).
- Emergency response
The Council has already established an Incident Management Team and is coordinating with Civil Defence, Ministry of Health and other agencies.Effective immediately: Estimated cost: $200,000
- Business response centre
The Council will partner with Te Waka and others to provide on-the-ground practical support for small and medium businesses.Effective immediately: Estimated cost: $165,000
Councillors have also asked staff to continue work on phase two initiatives including:
- Phase 2: Boosting Council’s capital programme
Staff are urgently investigating bringing forward or increasing parts of the city’s capital programme to stimulate business and create jobs. Projects being touted include planting of recreational areas and gullies, erosion control work, cycleways, large wastewater projects and a range of building projects. Contracts could be constructed to mandate certain levels of re-employment of workers who had their employment affected by COVID-19
- Phase 2: Job creation programme and major economic stimulus
Council staff and government officials are already investigating an economic stimulus package to help reduce social and economic impacts on the city and wider region. Discussions with the Government include possible co-funding arrangements. Details are likely to be released over coming weeks.
- Phase 2: Economic development forum
The Council will continue working with Te Waka, the Waikato Chamber of Commerce, Hamilton Central Business District Association, Hamilton-Waikato Tourism to develop a forum aimed at kick-starting the city’s economy post COVID-19.
- More financial relief options
Council will review further financial relief options before finalising the budget and setting the rates for next year. Options would include continuing the initiatives already announced, different rate options for 2020/21 or new, targeted initiatives.
Mayor Paula Southgate said she was very pleased with the “first tranche” of fast-response initiatives and stressed more was to come for business and the wider community. She was proud of what Council has pulled together in such a short time.
“All Councillors are acutely aware the community is reeling – I feel that very personally,” she said.
“I want to move fast – so do Councillors – and we have done that today. But we all need to understand the short and longer-term impacts on our community.”
“We’ve put some very constructive things in place to roll out immediately – that’s great. Now let’s focus on working up phase two of this package and getting it right. We need to understand all the implications for ratepayers before making decisions, including what role the government and other agencies might play.”
Chief Executive Richard Briggs said Councillors were clear all initiatives needed to be focused on providing targeted relief to those most at social and economic risk.
“Council wants to do the most it possibly can, for the most people it possibly can. Our focus has been on what we can do, not what we can’t and now we’ll be going hard to work up phase two initiatives for consideration.
The City’s recovery from COVID-19 could not be just a Council-led programme, he said.
“We need Hamilton businesses, philanthropic organisations, community groups and the wider community to walk alongside us and properly lead some initiatives. “
“We’ll provide as much support as we can and as directed by the Mayor, we’ll pull every single lever we can find. But we can’t do it alone.”
The Council will have more information available from Tuesday next week on how people could access support.