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Coronavirus: Rates ‘freeze’ Considered For Marlborough To Reduce Economic Impact

Marlborough District Council chief executive Mark Wheeler provides an update to councillors on the coronavirus pandemic. CREDIT: CHLOE RANFORD/LDR

An idea to "freeze" rates has been pitched by Marlborough's civic leaders to show "responsible leadership" in light of coronavirus.

Senior staff at the Marlborough District Council agreed on Wednesday to consider cutting this year's rates rise to 2.2 per cent - the minimum needed to keep services running - to ease the burden on homeowners and business owners in these "unprecedented times".

Councillors last month approved a 4.86 per cent rates increase, driven by a "very high level of capital expenditure", but would instead look at alternatives to projects to keep rates down at full council on April 2. If approved, the revision would be referred onto the annual plan process.

Deputy Mayor Nadine Taylor said at a council meeting on Thursday that senior leaders hoped it established "a way forward for the province".

"The idea behind this is we are 'Team Marlborough'. We are all in this together. But it is an unprecedented situation that we are facing and that our homeowners and our business owners are facing," Taylor said.

This year's forecasted rates increase were based on an expected growth in services across the region, which the council would reassess.

"The idea is that we be responsible in our spending," she said.

Chief executive Mark Wheeler said the council was "well prepared" to maintain services if there was "a high causality rate" among council staff.

The council would move staff off-site if Marlborough saw a confirmed case of coronavirus, starting with those who had health conditions or worked on "critical activities", like water supplies, solid waste or roading.

Wheeler said he personally thought resource and building consents were important as it kept Marlborough's economy "in good shape", as did residential development, which was needed to address housing issues.

If staff in critical services became ill, then members from less critical departments could be "re-pooled" to cover them, he said. Some staff were currently being trained to step in if solid waste operators became sick.

Councillor Mark Peters said it was "imperative" that council ensured as many capital expenditure projects were undertaken to maintain jobs, retain district wages, keep economic activity "high", and help Marlborough's economy through this "unprecedented situation".

Tables and chairs were reorganised in the council chambers so councillors and the public could sit 2 metres from each other, as recommended by the Ministry of Health to slow the spread of the virus.

Council emergency services manager Brian Paton said Nelson Marlborough Health asked Marlborough Civil Defence on Monday to take over its job of finding accommodation for people wanting to self-isolate for the recommended two-week period.

"We're looking at having to provide people with accommodation, goods and services, hardship payments or payments for food, he said.

Civil Defence was facing "issues" finding cleaners who were willing to sterilise a room after it was used for self-isolation, he said.

Nelson Marlborough Health was paying for isolation costs at this stage, he said.

Official advice suggested that Marlborough Civil Defence could be active for up to nine months, which could cause staffing problems, despite the council's offer to provide as many staff as needed, he said.

Infometrics economist Alistair Schorn said there was forecasted to be a recession until mid-2021, with the region's tourism "in the firing line".

"It's not as bad as in some regions, but it's still a big hit for a lot of companies ... Council will need to help in whatever way possible. Supporting local businesses will be key, and supporting local tourism."

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