The Covid-19 crisis is set to become the first big test of the sale of Napier Port shares as the Hawke's Bay Regional Council digs into its books to see how it can help the region.
Chairman Rex Graham said protection of the region's future was the purpose of last year's decision to sell 45 per cent of the interest.
"We've got a really strong balance sheet which was strong even ahead of selling that 45 per cent," he said. "There were five main reasons, including insulating against natural disaster, and pandemic is one of them. Of course, here we are."
He is not yet sure of what help can be provided, but says whatever benefit is decided will be shared across the region, which has the four territorial authorities of the Napier City Council and the Wairoa, Hastings and Central Hawke's Bay district councils.
The port interest belongs to all of Hawke's Bay, and the council is "only the guardian of those shares", he said.
Asked about the range of options, which might include steps to unburden the territorial councils as they create annual plans and confirm rates for 2020-2021, he said: "I've got a council of very active minds, and there are a lot of ideas."
The regional council had last week announced an intent to not increase rates this year – a step often referred to as a "zero" rate increase.
Graham said at the time: "We want to postpone our planned rate increase and need to find ways to do this and still deliver on our 2020-21 Annual Plan."
He said on Tuesday council chief executive James Palmer and fellow executive staff have been instructed to look into the balance sheet to see what options could be used.
"Our experts are looking at that now," he said.
The prospects pleased Wairoa District mayor Craig Little, who met with his six-member council on Monday via video conferencing, leading to an instruction to staff to "sharpen-up the pencils" to try to keep costs down ahead of striking the annual rates, amid public pressure to stall any possible increases.
Little had said on Monday the regional council's "zero rate increase" announcement hadn't helped councils such as his, without the assets strength of the regional authority but facing a public expectation that they might also hunker-down.
Apart from the distancing, it was business as usual at what was a pre-scheduled annual plan workshop, and a bit of a reunion for the mayor, who along with wife Jan has been in self-isolation at their Ohuka farm since returning from an overseas trip a few days before the lockdown.
The isolation had meant he was unable to be at the last pre-lockdown council meeting on March 24.
Little said it's too early for his council to be contemplating not increasing rates this year, because it has costs which have to be met.
Wairoa has one of the smaller populations of the country's district councils, but as one example has among the greater distances of rural roads to maintain.
"We have instructed the staff to go away, sharpen-up the pencils and do as much as possible," the mayor said. "We've still got to work out, as has everyone else, what we've got ahead of us. We are looking at all options."
Tararua mayor Tracey Collis, whose council is linked to the Manawatū-Wanganui region's Horizons council, said that while communicating amongst each other her council had not met since the lockdown started.
The focus she said was on the more immediate issues, the Covid-19 crisis coming on top of one of the area's most severe and extensive droughts, and the water issues which have also hit the urban communities.
"We have got a large rural community which has been stressed enough with the drought," she said. "We are focused on that."
Councils mainly go through annual plan processes in the three-month period leading to the striking of annual rates in June.