Northland Regional Council is moving to almost halve its planned rates increase to 4.5 per cent for the coming financial year in the face of major Covid-19 impacts.
The council this week voted to reset its proposed 2020/2021 rates from an initial 8.6 per cent increase. It's wiped $2.4 million from its proposed next year's budget - about $2m from existing or proposed projects and $410,000 from recruitment with some vacant positions not being filled.
"I would like to acknowledge the economic, physical and mental hardship all Northlanders are experiencing as a result of this pandemic," NRC chairwoman Penny Smart said at the online meeting.
"The next year or so coming out of Covid-19 will be challenging. It will be a time for review, resetting and also capitalising on opportunities as they emerge."
The council forecast there would be a just over $4m hit to its coming year's budget. A rates increase of 13.8 per cent would have been needed to balance the books with no changes to business-as-usual budgets.
But the budget had been reduced, ending up at just 0.5 per cent ahead of where the council said it would be for 2020/2021 in its longer horizon, 10-year 2018-2028 long-term plan. The proposed budget is expected to be formally adopted on June 16.
Budget adjustments for the coming financial year mean the council will cut funding for supporting its relationship with Māori while at the same time continuing with its regional sporting facilities rates collection.
NRC will cut $142,700 funding for a Kaiarahi Mahere Māori or Māori technical adviser, some tangata whenua capability support and Northland Māori representation on national Te Manuata committee for the coming year.
They will continue with a targeted regional sporting facilities rate, angled towards a Northland football hub.
Rick Stolwerk, NRC Sport Northland councillor, said continuing with the regional sporting rate acknowledged the importance of sports for the mental health and recovery of Northlanders out of Covid-19.
"The public may look at regional sporting facilities and see that not as a core function of Northland Regional Council. But as council's representative on Sport Northland it's important we acknowledge in these times, the mental health issue and having sporting facilities, not decreasing this amount, is very important to the recovery after this crisis," Stolwerk said.
Marty Robinson, Te Taitokerau Māori and Council Working Party (TTMAC) co-chair, said TTMAC's increased inclusion in council's other working parties balanced the spending reductions in the area of supporting Māori.
Councillors voted in favour of the 4.5 per cent rates reset - with Smart and councillors John Bain, Colin "Toss" Kitchen, Amy Macdonald, Rick Stolwerk and Joce Yeoman in support. Deputy chair Justin Blaikie and councillors Marty Robinson and Jack Craw wanted a lower rates reset, voting against the 4.5 per cent.
Craw attempted, in an amendment to the 4.5 per cent rates reset motion, to instead get the rates reset to 2.2 per cent, in line with Local Government Cost Index (LGCI) indexed inflation, but could not find another councillor to second his motion. Blaikie then called for a 4 per cent rates reset via another amendment, seconded by Robinson - but a majority meeting decision against this meant it too failed to get across the line.