Rates relief on table

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By Linda Clarke

Ashburton District Councillors may prune some items from their budget to reduce rates for people struggling financially with the impact of Covid-19.

Mayor Neil Brown said a special council meeting on April 9 had been convened to discuss financial relief.

The council had planned a 4.9 per cent rate increase but some items previously approved would be re-examined, he said.

On the chopping block could be funding for an extra staff member in the information systems department and new customer software for the EA Networks Centre.

Some $120,000 had been set aside in the budget to replace the sports centre’s ageing software system with a modern system that would allow for growth, better track performance and even allow self-service for some users. The centre is closed during the lockdown.

Around $80,000 had been tagged for an additional geographical information system officer.

Mr Brown said both items could be in the mix as councillors talked about rejigging the budget in what would be tight economic times as the district recovered from Covid-19.

Councillors needed to look at what they could do to relieve the financial burden on some, he said.

“We will have a look at everything.

“We might consider reducing rates overall by going back into the budget and taking some stuff out, stuff that is absolutely not necessary.”

Mr Brown said council was also keeping an eye out for people needing social welfare help, through its civil defence team and a local government helpline. “I understand there is not a lot of need at the moment, but it could ramp up.”

He advised business owners to explore financial help available through the Government’s Covid-19 finance package.

The mayor has spent the past week on his rural block just outside Ashburton, with his wife Judy and daughter Mikayla, who is home from the University of Canterbury.

He has been shifting the fences for a mob of dairy heifers grazing on the property and baking the odd beer loaf.

“One good thing is that farmers are fairly resilient, it’s normally snow, winds and floods that stop them working. We have all the facilities like power, water and internet, so we can farm in our bubble.”

Mr Brown has also been keeping in touch with local police about arising issues, and other mayors in Canterbury about the uncertainties faced.