I have been talking to a lot of people lately, mostly about our work at council and transitioning to Covid-19 Level 2. It's obvious to me that while some have been chomping at the bit to burst their bubbles, others have been less enthusiastic, preferring the quiet, more relaxed lockdown lifestyle.
The absence of cars on the roads, boats in the water, people in the street and social, educational and family commitments left many feeling more relaxed and in touch than ever before.
It's an interesting flipside to the negatives of Covid-19 (of which, I am well aware, there are many). We learned how to be more caring, how to work together as "a team of five million", how to spend slow time with our families.
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We began to value our local connections more as we hit pause on our hectic lifestyles, and we realised that we had been taking many of our everyday freedoms and conveniences for granted.
The question on everyone's lips is: will we take these lessons with us into a new normal?
As we adjust to Alert Level 2, many of the people I speak with feel the need to confirm that Covid-19 has changed us. And, I can state without a doubt, it has.
While I was overjoyed to see that town was buzzing on the first weekend of alert level 2, I also noticed the strict adherence to spacing and contact tracing procedures. While the actual spacing measurements may fade once the immediate risk posed by Covid-19 has passed, we have all learned that it's possible to live and work under new conditions.
Those conditions could come into play again at any time, and our new normal needs to take that into account.
Whangārei District Council is asking for feedback on our Annual Plan, which includes information around the proposed reduced rates increase. I know this is a contentious issue: why are we proposing a (reduced) rates increase, during this time of economic recovery?
The answer is this: the proposed 2.2 per cent rates increase would go straight back into our Recovery Package, which is addressing urgent and imperative financial needs within our community. You can read details about our Recovery Package on our website, wdc.govt.nz/Covid19Relief .
The council will be running at an effective 0 per cent rates increase while our operational expenses are continuing to rise, as we work to maintain or upgrade our ageing infrastructure.
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This will put strain on our ability to maintain our current levels of service.
We are only just starting to see the economic impacts of Covid-19. The council is preparing for what the new normal will mean for our district in the long term, which includes helping with access to remediation packages, boosting job opportunities in those areas that will experience growth, and ensuring that our essential works continue.
Covid-19 has changed us, and we will be adjusting to this new normal for many years to come.
• Sheryl Mai is mayor of Whangārei.