Three months’ rent relief for Council leaseholders, refunds for affected bookings and credit for memberships are some of the measures agreed on by Whakatāne District Council elected members at Council’s 30 April meeting.

The Analysis of the Impacts of Covid-19 on Revenue report sought to equip elected members with necessary information on each of Council’s revenue streams, and indicate those that may be financially impacted from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The analysis of revenue information was accompanied by a summary of options for ratepayer relief and their associated pros and cons.

Whakatāne District Mayor Judy Turner says staff and elected members had made a considerable effort in a short space of time to review and understand all options that were available to offer relief to those most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. “As the Council owns a significant proportion of land in the Central Business District, supporting leaseholders was a crucial part of this immediate relief.”

EPIC Board Chairman Warren Short says the decision to provide three months’ rent relief for leaseholders that must be passed on to tenant businesses is a great outcome for EPIC and its members. “The retail sector has been hit hard so we’re grateful that Council has heard our concerns and agreed on an approach that will alleviate some of the immediate burden on Whakatāne businesses.”

Mayor Turner highlighted that Council continues to provide essential services to the community and these come at a cost which cannot just be turned off. “Getting the balance right between determining the funding required now to support economic recovery, whilst ensuring we are good ancestors for our future generations is front-of-mind for the Council.”

The options presented for immediate economic relief were assessed using three key considerations: the ability to pay, the ability to access the service or facility, and the availability of other COVID-19 interventions.

The series of recommendations agreed on by elected members included:

• Supporting the use of the current suite of rates policies and debt management arrangements, the current Penalty Remission policy, and the deferral of payments for Development Contributions by negotiation with staff
• Budget provision of $600,000 funded from the Harbour fund to support up to three months’ rent relief to impacted commercial and harbour leaseholders, with no rating impact
• Waiving three months’ lease costs for annual Council leaseholders and refunding of affected bookings

• Three months’ credit for annual gym and aquatic centre memberships and refunds of affected bookings
• Withdrawal of Building and Resource consents, lodged pre-COVID-19, with no charge or penalty.

Mayor Turner notes that Whakatāne District Council already has a wide array of options available for those who may be challenged with making payments. “Though we are legislatively unable to make changes to the latest rates instalment, staff are available and willing to work on an individual basis with those in this position, and find a way forward that is mutually acceptable,” she says.

The options adopted are part of the first step in Council’s 13 step plan to help the District withstand and recover from both COVID-19 and the earlier Whakaari/ White Island eruption impacts. The plan involves 13 initiatives that will be led mainly by the Council, but will require a strong partnership approach with Toi EDA, the EBOP Chamber of Commerce, the business sector, iwi and Central Government partners.

Mayor Turner concludes by noting that while there is immediate economic relief available, Council has acknowledged its leadership role in supporting economic recovery in the longer term and will be considering this through the upcoming Annual Plan process and additional stages of its 13 step plan to recovery.