Horowhenua District Council has resisted a knee-jerk decision on rates after the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak.

Instead, it is considering working with ratepayers and businesses experiencing hardship on a case-by-case basis under a new rates postponement policy, the finer details of which are yet to be finalised.

The draft policy highlighted the fact that not all businesses and
ratepayers will be affected by the economic downturn from the pandemic response. Any hardship would need to be proven.

Main street shops, cafes, restaurants, tourist attractions, accommodation providers and
ratepayers who have been made redundant could need targeted relief, while other business and ratepayers could be affected to a lesser extent.

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At a meeting this week councillors voted unanimously to meet as a working group under urgency to further discuss the issue.

Horowhenua Mayor Bernie Wanden said it was important that any policy around post-Covid-19 rates was fully understood before it was locked in.

"We don't want to rush into these decisions and get it wrong," he said.

The proposed annual rate increase was 6.9 per cent, however that figure was a revenue increase and any individual rate increase varied, best explained using a formula found at ratesinformation.horowhenua.govt.nz/

HDC has already received 135 submissions from the public - more than the last two Annual Plan consultation periods put together - on proposed rates for the year beginning July 1.

The council legally has to formally adopt an Annual Plan by June 30 and any changes have to be opened up for further public consultation.

Wanden said he understood the desire from a number of submitters to lower the increase from the proposed 6.9 per cent, but the council also had to consider its role in any economic recovery.

"There are others who are looking to council to support the recovery of the Horowhenua economy by bringing forward capital projects that will create new jobs.

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"The growth and infrastructure renewal issues that need addressing will remain well after the Covid-19 alert levels are lifted."

The first Annual Plan draft was adopted before the outbreak of Covid-19, so further public submissions had be considered before final decisions were made.

HDC had allowed the community to make phone submissions and had produced the flyer distributed through the post, in addition to online mechanisms.

Wanden said HDC would carefully consider all public feedback to ensure the final Annual Plan draft reflected the needs of the district.

"We are conscious of the impact the pandemic has had on many families, including their ability to pay rates. We are largely governed by legislation in this matter but we are considering what options are available to us," he said.

Rates provide more than 70 per cent of HDC's annual income, which in turn was invested back into the community to provide services and support, and it could ill-afford to reduce income long-term.

HDC is to continue with projects already contracted, but is reviewing non-essential projects that do not yet have contracts or service agreements locked in place.

"We are mindful that council plays a key role in employing local contractors and services, so any reduction in our spending needs to be carefully considered," Wanden said.

"We would need to strike a balance between any need to reduce spending and our role in stimulating and supporting the local economy to recover.

"We will therefore take a measured approach and ensure we have the facts in front of us before we make decisions.

"Making sure we continue to provide core services for our community and understanding what might be needed to help our district's social and economic recovery will be key factors."

Exactly who would need relief was hard to guess, but 181 retail businesses currently pay $722,000 in rates, 12 in tourism pay $31,000, 13 in accommodation pay $47,000, and 358 industrial businesses pay $957,000.

HDC said anyone experiencing hardship could email rates@horowhenua.govt.nz, or call (06) 366 0999, to make arrangements.