Coun­cils to meet re­motely

Leg­is­la­tion ap­proves meet­ings via au­dio or vis­ual link

Waikato News - - FRONT PAGE - Tom Row­land

Coun­cils across the Waikato are re­as­sur­ing their com­mu­ni­ties that they will be keep­ing es­sen­tial ser­vices such as rubbish col­lec­tion and wa­ter op­er­at­ing dur­ing the four-week lock­down, while find­ing ways to ease the pres­sure on res­i­dents af­fected by Covid-19.

An emer­gency meet­ing of Waikato Re­gional Coun­cil agreed a process to en­able swift de­ci­sion-mak­ing in light of the Govern­ment’s an­nounce­ment to im­pose a lock­down of four weeks.

How­ever, on Wed­nes­day night, the Govern­ment passed ur­gent leg­is­la­tion which will al­low coun­cils to con­tinue to meet quo­rum re­quire­ments for meet­ings via au­dio or vis­ual link, mean­ing the coun­cils can put on hold giv­ing del­e­ga­tion to their chief ex­ec­u­tives and emer­gency com­mit­tees.

The coun­cil­lors also agreed to strive for a zero per cent rates in­crease in the 2020/21 fi­nan­cial year.

“There are tough times ahead for the peo­ple of our re­gion, in­deed the peo­ple of New Zealand. We need to be in tune with our tight­en­ing econ­omy and the chal­lenges our peo­ple are go­ing to be fac­ing across the Waikato,” chair­man Russ Rim­ming­ton said.

“It’s also im­por­tant the re­gional coun­cil is able to re­spond swiftly,” he said.

“We’ve shown that we can, and in­deed are likely to be the first coun­cil in the coun­try to move as quickly.”

Prior to the Wed­nes­day law change, rather than hold­ing for­mal meet­ings, ur­gent Waikato Re­gional Coun­cil de­ci­sions were to be made by an emer­gency com­mit­tee com­pris­ing chair Russ Rim­ming­ton, the chair of the rel­e­vant com­mit­tee and chief ex­ec­u­tive Vaughan Payne by con­sen­sus.

The de­ci­sion was in line with guid­ance from Lo­cal Govern­ment New Zealand.

“The Govern­ment has made the right de­ci­sion for the safety of New Zealan­ders. It’s now very im­por­tant that as a coun­cil we im­ple­ment a plan that en­ables our or­gan­i­sa­tion to con­tinue pro­vid­ing es­sen­tial ser­vices, be­cause there are jobs we do that have an im­pact on peo­ple’s lives,” said Mr Rim­ming­ton.

Mr Rim­ming­ton’s con­cern had been that there were ques­tions as to why coun­cil could not con­tinue virtually.

“You might won­der why coun­cil­lors can’t con­tinue to meet virtually. Quite sim­ply, leg­is­la­tion re­quires coun­cil­lors to be phys­i­cally present to con­sti­tute a quo­rum. If leg­is­la­tion is changed there could be a move to elec­tronic meet­ings in­stead of us­ing the ur­gent de­ci­sion-mak­ing del­e­ga­tions,” he said.

The emer­gency com­mit­tee and del­e­ga­tions, which may now be un­nec­es­sary, will be re­viewed as soon as rea­son­ably pos­si­ble now that a leg­isla­tive change to quo­rum re­quire­ments has been made.

The law around leg­is­la­tion re­quir­ing coun­cil­lors to meet phys­i­cally was also been called into ques­tion by Hamil­ton mayor Paula South­gate prior to Wed­nes­day night’s an­nounce­ment.

On Wed­nes­day, Hamil­ton City Coun­cil voted to give the chief ex­ec­u­tive Richard Briggs tem­po­rary coun­cil del­e­gate pow­ers un­til the coun­cil can meet again.

“We can’t be ham­pered by leg­is­la­tion which will slow us down. We need to be nim­ble so we re­spond quickly to the needs of our com­mu­nity,” Mrs South­gate said.

Mrs South­gate said the coun­cil would look to­wards a to­tal rates re­lief pack­age to help Hamil­ton res­i­dents af­fected from the Covid-19 out­break.

She has con­firmed a po­ten­tial rates freeze re­mains on the ta­ble but is push­ing for staff to look at what fur­ther rates levers coun­cil can pull.

Waikato Dis­trict Coun­cil has as­sured res­i­dents that rubbish col­lec­tion and con­tin­gency plans are in place for the next four weeks.

“I want to re­as­sure our res­i­dents that Waikato Dis­trict Coun­cil will con­tinue to pro­vide es­sen­tial ser­vices to its com­mu­ni­ties,” said chief ex­ec­u­tive Gavin Ion.

“There will still be safe drink­ing wa­ter, they will still be able to flush their toi­lets and

rubbish and re­cy­cling will con­tinue to be col­lected while Alert Level 3 and 4 are in place.”

How­ever, all coun­cil of­fices, sites and com­mu­nity fa­cil­i­ties, in­clud­ing pools, play­grounds and li­braries are closed. Huntly and Raglan camp­grounds are also closed.

“Coun­cil has con­tin­gency plans in place and as of March 24, all coun­cil staff who can per­form their role from home are now do­ing so,” says Mr Ion.

“There may be some changes we need to make to our ser­vices, so please be pa­tient as we work through this. If changes are needed we will no­tify the pub­lic as soon as pos­si­ble.”

Res­i­dents in the Mata­mata-Pi­ako dis­trict will have a change to their col­lect­ing of rubbish, from one one week to ev­ery two weeks af­ter March 27.

Play­grounds, li­braries, mu­se­ums, swim­ming pools and other coun­cil fa­cil­i­ties across the Waikato and Hamil­ton will be shut down to the lock­down.

Pho­tos / Sup­plied

Hamil­ton Mayor Paula South­gate and Waikato Re­gional chair­man Russ Rim­ming­ton.

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