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Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher

“These are extraordinary times; we must find extraordinary solutions,” Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher says.

The Waitaki District Council has made plans to draw up to $2 million from its disaster relief fund and capped a planned rates increase at 3.5% to alleviate stress posed by the Covid-19 pandemic in the district.

A late item was added to the agenda for the council’s Wednesday meeting, proposing that money from the council’s disaster fund, which at present sits at $3.6 million, be freed up to support those impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.

The proposal to draw up to $2 million and the proposed 3.5% rates rise have now been included in the council’s draft annual plan to go to consultation.

Mr Kircher said it was important the council’s plans did not overlap the Government’s $12.1 billion support package announced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern earlier this week.

Waitaki’s package could provide temporary employment to those who may potentially lose their jobs if the pandemic continued to threaten the district’s economy, Mr Kircher said.

“This is an extremely difficult time for some of our most vulnerable people, and while it is great to see the Government’s response, we want to make sure that we are ready to help those who may fall through the gaps,” he said.

“Given the current climate, we will end up with people out of work and there are some opportunities to assist.”

Money from the council’s disaster fund could be used to bring forward planned projects, and create new ones.

“The idea is it is a support and stimulus package, which will help support people, [who] are the most vulnerable in this situation, with a funding package.

“It is so important that we look out for each other, and I want to ensure we do that from both health and financial perspectives.

An example of employment that could be provided was digitalizing the 14,000 property files the council had, Mr Kircher said.

“There is double benefit there – providing a public service and employing a number of people.

“This will allow us to get updated with some maintenance-type work, things that aren’t part of normal maintenance contracts.”

While the full impact of the outbreak was yet to hit the district, he said it was an “ever-changing” situation that needed the council’s full attention.

Additional reporting Daniel Birchfield