Wellington City Council's top brass will meet with all councillors tomorrow for the first time since the lockdown to discuss a budget hole blown wide open by Covid-19.
The meeting will be held via Zoom, naturally. It's a workshop so the public will be excluded from the talks, but a full council meeting will be scheduled next Thursday.
Council revenue is drying up with many of its facilities closed and its metered parking turned off, which will only be exacerbated if calls for a rates freeze and deferrals are successful.
The books were already feeling the pinch by the huge investment needed for the $6.4b Let's Get Wellington Moving project, the city's ageing water infrastructure, and the woeful state of Civic Square.
Prior to the outbreak of the deadly virus, a rates hike of 9.2 per cent was proposed in the council's draft annual plan.
But as the economic impact of the pandemic became clear, that option is now almost certainly not tenable.
Tomorrow councillors will be presented with a report into the organisation's finances, a pandemic response plan with short-term initiatives and key items to make a decision on at the council meeting next week.
Mayor Andy Foster said the scale of the impact on council's revenue had resulted in "very large" sums.
"What spending cuts could mean for big projects like Te Ngakau Civic Square, the Central Library, the Town Hall project and our various infrastructure obligations – notably our three-waters network – will be front of mind.
"So will the possibility that we could get some 'shovel-ready' projects going if the local economy needs 'pump-priming' in the coming year."
Foster acknowledged businesses were hurting, especially in sectors which have essentially been closed down by the lockdown.
"Sadly that means a lot of people have lost their jobs or had hours reduced."
Other councils across the country have already committed to rates freezes, but there's been nothing concrete from Wellington City Council.
The lack of communication has frustrated some business owners, like Wellington Hospitality Group manager Jamie Williams.
"My frustration at the moment is the silence. I've had a couple of councillors reach out, it sounds like they're reasonably frustrated with internal politics and no one's sort of really taken charge."
Following the criticism, economic development portfolio leader councillor Diane Calvert has assured businesses they will see swift decision-making in the coming days.
She has also acknowledged the council has not communicated as well as it could have during the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Businesses need some sort of certainty because they're trying to plan their future … at the moment they are working in a vacuum."
Calvert said the council has taken longer than other councils to "come out with something" because officers were working on something more comprehensive.
She pointed out she had convened a meeting two weeks ago between city councillors and representatives of the local business community to understand the impact they were experiencing and how the council could support them.
Wellington Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Milford said the council should be considering a zero rates increase at the very least, and a "bottom up" look at all costs like liquor licensing.
He said businesses also needed a rates deferment to give them breathing space to recover from the economic fallout.
After tomorrow's workshop Foster said he would be taking part in an infrastructure meeting with the region's other mayors and council chief executives.