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Swift Action Put Regional Council In Strong Position Despite COVID-19 Impact

Waikato Regional Council is closing out 2020 in a positive place financially despite the impact of COVID-19 and its decision to lock in a net zero per cent rates increase for residents.

The council today signed off its 2019/20 annual report, which showed a favourable balance sheet compared to annual plan projections, receiving an unmodified audit opinion.

Chair Russ Rimmington said that while the year may have brought unexpected challenges, it also highlighted the resilience of the council and the Waikato region.

“Good forward planning and swift action put us in a great position to seamlessly move our organisation to home working and maintain our focus on making the right decisions for residents,” he said.

“We’re now full steam ahead and excited to finalise our big-ticket items like the Te Huia passenger rail service and shovel ready projects to keep our region thriving.”

Despite bringing in $700,000 less in revenue last financial year, the council’s operational spending decreased by $4.7 million, resulting in a $4.4 million reduction in its budgeted net operating deficit. This has had a corresponding impact of a lower level of borrowing than had been forecast.

Chief executive Chris McLay said: “A delay in progress on the Waikato Regional Theatre and a reduction in expenses through the COVID-19 lockdown period were the major contributors to this reduction in spending.

“The lockdown also had a great impact on our carbon footprint, unlocking useful lessons about traditional commuting habits we’ll certainly be taking with us to our new headquarters next year,” he said.

“This annual report ties up the final year of our 2016-19 strategic direction and is a testament to the achievements of my predecessor, Vaughan Payne. It highlights the strides we’ve made as a council, from a big reduction in our CO2 emissions to crucial upgrades in our flood protection assets to protect people, homes and livelihoods.”

While given the green light from Audit NZ later than usual this year, the approval of the 2019/20 annual report has fallen within the extended statutory reporting timeframe introduced by the government in August to accommodate the impact of the lockdown on all local authorities. This gave councils until 31 December 2020 to complete the reporting cycle.

The annual report will be available online at waikatoregion.govt.nz/annual-report.

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