Councils across the Waikato are reassuring their communities that they will be keeping essential services such as rubbish collection and water operating during the four-week lockdown, while finding ways to ease the pressure on residents affected by Covid-19.
An emergency meeting of Waikato Regional Council agreed a process to enable swift decision-making in light of the Government's announcement to impose a lockdown of four weeks.
However, on Wednesday night, the Government passed urgent legislation which will allow councils to continue to meet quorum requirements for meetings via audio or visual link, meaning the councils can put on hold giving delegation to their chief executives and emergency committees.
The councillors also agreed to strive for a zero per cent rates increase in the 2020/21 financial year.
"There are tough times ahead for the people of our region, indeed the people of New Zealand. We need to be in tune with our tightening economy and the challenges our people are going to be facing across the Waikato," chairman Russ Rimmington said.
"It's also important the regional council is able to respond swiftly," he said.
"We've shown that we can, and indeed are likely to be the first council in the country to move as quickly."
Prior to the Wednesday law change, rather than holding formal meetings, urgent Waikato Regional Council decisions were to be made by an emergency committee comprising chair Russ Rimmington, the chair of the relevant committee and chief executive Vaughan Payne by consensus.
The decision was in line with guidance from Local Government New Zealand.
"The Government has made the right decision for the safety of New Zealanders.
It's now very important that as a council we implement a plan that enables our organisation to continue providing essential services, because there are jobs we do that have an impact on people's lives," said Mr Rimmington.
Mr Rimmington's concern had been that there were questions as to why council could not continue virtually.
"You might wonder why councillors can't continue to meet virtually. Quite simply,
legislation requires councillors to be physically present to constitute a quorum. If legislation is changed there could be a move to electronic meetings instead of using the urgent decision-making delegations," he said.
The emergency committee and delegations, which may now be unnecessary, will be reviewed as soon as reasonably possible now that a legislative change to quorum requirements has been made.
The law around legislation requiring councillors to meet physically was also been called into question by Hamilton mayor Paula Southgate prior to Wednesday night's announcement.
On Wednesday, Hamilton City Council voted to give the chief executive Richard Briggs temporary council delegate powers until the council can meet again.
"We can't be hampered by legislation which will slow us down. We need to be nimble so we respond quickly to the needs of our community," Mrs Southgate said.
Mrs Southgate said the council would look towards a total rates relief package to help Hamilton residents affected from the Covid-19 outbreak.
She has confirmed a potential rates freeze remains on the table but is pushing for staff to look at what further rates levers council can pull.
Waikato District Council has assured residents that rubbish collection and contingency plans are in place for the next four weeks.
"I want to reassure our residents that Waikato District Council will continue to provide essential services to its communities," said chief executive Gavin Ion.
"There will still be safe drinking water, they will still be able to flush their toilets and rubbish and recycling will continue to be collected while Alert Level 3 and 4 are in place."
However, all council offices, sites and community facilities, including pools, playgrounds and libraries are closed. Huntly and Raglan campgrounds are also closed.
"Council has contingency plans in place and as of March 24, all council staff who can perform their role from home are now doing so," says Mr Ion.
"There may be some changes we need to make to our services, so please be patient as we work through this. If changes are needed we will notify the public as soon as possible."
Residents in the Matamata-Piako district will have a change to their collecting of rubbish, from one one week to every two weeks after March 27.
Playgrounds, libraries, museums, swimming pools and other council facilities across the Waikato and Hamilton will be shut down to the lockdown.