By Susan Botting
Northland Regional Council received more than $1.5 million in Government Covid-19 wage subsidy after its March income plummeted by almost 70 per cent.
The council is crediting the money for keeping its staff employed over a difficult time.
"The wage subsidy enabled the council to continue to employ its full staff complement and pay wages," Malcolm Nicolson, Northland Regional Council (NRC) chief executive said.
NRC's March income this year fell by $3,936,979 over March 2019 - a 68 per cent income drop.
Employers that experienced a 30 per cent revenue drop due to Covid-19 over a month between January 2020 and June 9 2020 compared with the same month in 2019 were eligible for the Government wage subsidy.
NRC's financial investments led to the major drop, despite increased income from rates, grants and subsidies and investment interest.
The council's March 2020 rates income was $2.294m, up 8.7 per cent on the previous year. Income from user fees increased by 49.3 per cent and grants and subsidies by 90 per cent.
A big drop in NRC's longer-term investment in New Zealand and overseas sharemarkets made up the bulk of the income decline. Gains from these investments, which were higher-risk because the money was invested for use in the future rather than immediately, were down $3,156,490.
There was also a drop in returns from funds invested short-term in the sharemarket. These funds were more conservatively invested because they were to be used sooner by the council. Short-term fund gains were down $473,422.
Other declines experienced were with the council's property reinvestment fund, down $284,656; its community investment fund income, down $352,309; and its infrastructure investment fund, down $166,901. Forestry income was also down.
The NRC received $1,521,046 in Government wage subsidy. This was used towards paying 220 employees, excluding externally-funded staff.
"The wage subsidy reduced the impact of Covid-19 on the levels of services provided by the council to the community by enabling council to continue to employ staff and pay wages," Nicolson said.
Nicolson said without the subsidy, NRC would not have been able to achieve the work outlined in its short- and long-term planning.
He said the NRC income drop was due to financial market volatility driven by Covid-19.
Dividends from NRC's 53.61 per cent investment in Marsden Maritime Holdings remained the same, the council getting $1.494,656 in income from this source.
Nicolson said NRC had played a major role in supporting the Government's Covid-19 response on the ground in Northland.
Only four of New Zealand's 78 councils received the wage subsidy, jointly receiving about $8m.
NRC is the only regional council among those.
The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) audited NRC and the other three councils after Porirua City Council was ordered to repay its subsidy.
It had to pay back $2.6m received after recalculations found it did not meet the 30 per cent income drop threshold. Its initial application was accepted when the council reported a revenue loss of 44 per cent in April but this did not include rates revenue.
MSD later clarified the criteria to include rates income and said the council no longer met the income drop threshold. Its income loss changed to 26 per cent.
Tauranga City Council received $3.7m and Waikato District Council $143,000.