Muddy Waters

16 4 2020

Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick has shrugged off an attempt by dissident councillor Reynold Macpherson to revisit the Rotorua Lakes Council’s economic recovery plan.

Cr Macpherson has produced a six-page paper saying the recovery paper agreed to on Friday 4 April was “premature” and underestimated the severity of the COVID-19 crisis.

He called for the councillors to be “invited to help revise the [plan] to generate a long-term economic reconstruction strategy for Rotorua.”

In response, Steve Chadwick said in a media release that “Council agreed to follow the ‘build back better’ approach to responding to post-COVID-19 economic recovery which is aligned to Government’s response”.

The initial focus was on immediate relief, through the rates deferral option to help cushion the blow for those most impacted, and the organisation is now working hard on the recovery aspects.

“Things are moving very fast and we’ve been busy connecting with Government, its agencies and groups across our community to look at the work that will be required to deliver the recovery plan we adopted as a Council,” Steve Chadwick said.


What this means

Reading the Mayor’s statement and given the overwhelming vote in favour of the tack being taken, it would seem Macpherson is in danger of being left out of the fold when it comes to shaping the “recovery” plan.  As noted in a previous post, the plan adopted by the overwhelming number of councillors appears to have an element of timidity that suggests a “business as usual” approach.

In their private session, councillors voted to adopt a “rates deferral option”, as follows:

“Also approved on Friday was a rates deferral option for the May 2020 rates instalment as part of immediate action to cushion the impact of COVID-19. It will be targeted at residential ratepayers and businesses most affected and who meet the criteria.”

In a more detailed section, the council says the deferral of rates payments for those who meet the criteria will “primarily target the tourism, hospitality, commercial accommodation and retails sectors”.

No mention of residents in general was made, although residents who work in the targeted sectors can apply for the deferral. 

Each business and those workers in the sectors will have to apply to the council: “Council is happy to discuss your situation and see if a rates payment arrangement is an option for you.”


Meanness in a time of crisis

Adopting this approach, rather than a blanket rates relief package, opens the council to being accused of an element of meanness in a time of crisis.  This, as much of the packages does, goes against the generosity and universality of much of the economic packages delivered by the government.

At worst, it provides an element of making work for council officials, who will doubtless be inundated with applications for the much-needed relief.  At a time when ratepayers could expect a measure of generosity coupled with rationality, they will instead have to apply (physically or online?) to a council officer for a decision that will weigh heavily on their financial situation.

The Macpherson paper has been given the flick by the Mayor on behalf of the council and its concerns about potential policy errors made in secret and in haste potentially being embedded in the 10-year plan without public discussion.

The council’s release on the recovery plan decisions said: “Mayor Chadwick says rating decisions for the next financial year will be made alongside the 2020/21 Annual Plan with work on a draft plan underway.”

Between now and then, ratepayers will be able to apply for deferral if they work in the chosen sectors.  Otherwise, they are on their own.

Mayoral yeah nah to Macpherson recovery plan paper

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