Council to consider COVID-19 support package

A SPECIAL meeting of the Derwent Valley Council will be held tomorrow (Thursday) evening to consider a COVID-19 community support package including a rates freeze, free dog registration and food licences, and refunding certain fees.

The 5pm meeting has been advertised to be held in the courthouse in Circle St, despite this building recently being declared closed by the council. The meeting will be live-streamed on Facebook.

Acting general manager Brian Barrett, who will not be at the meeting, has recommended in a written report:

  1. Suspend all debt recovery actions against community members for the remainder of this financial year (for outstanding rates and charges or outstanding invoices);
  2. Cease to charge interest on outstanding rates and charges until 30 June 2021;
  3. Encourage payment arrangements to enable residents to apply to repay their rates and charges over an extended period in response to financial hardship;
  4. Waive the two-week notification period for the Valley Children’s Centre for when a child is being withdrawn from our childcare service and the associated childcare fees AND hold existing childcare places for parents for the remainder of this financial year;
  5. Waive dog registration fees until 30 June 2021 while maintaining the requirement to register all dogs;
  6. Waive the fee to obtain a Kennel Licence until 30 June 2021 while maintaining the requirement to obtain the licence;
  7. Waive fees for food licences and health inspections until 30 June 2021 while maintaining the licencing and registration requirements;
  8. Review the capacity of lessees of council properties to continue to meet lease or license fees and suspend debt recovery action in the meantime;
  9. Endorse in-principle a 0% increase to rate or waste service charges for 2020-21.
  10. Endorse in-principle the community grants program being refocused to support local business and not-for-profit recovery or conversion to a digital environment or circular economy during 2020-21.

Mr Barrett says the proposal is in response to the impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic on households and local businesses. With an estimated cost of $250,000 to the council budget, the support being offered in-principle would require a contraction of programs in the 2020-21 financial year and/or potentially significant increases in rates and charges in future years, he said.

“If [the] council is to provide support for its community now it must have the appetite to increase rates and charges significantly when this crisis is over.  The situation will be clearer when the 2020-21 budget is ultimately adopted as [the] council will for the first time in many years have adopted a long-term financial management plan,” Mr Barrett said.

The notice advertising tomorrow’s meeting.

Mr Barrett said the recommendation being put to tomorrow night’s council meeting incorporated resolutions carried at a March 27 meeting of the Local Government Association of Tasmania in some cases went beyond them.

“As a matter of principle, [the] council will refund fees for bookings where the services can no longer be provided [for example] parks hire, barbecues, hall hire. This will have a limited impact on council revenue for 2019-20,” he said.

Mr Barrett’s recommendation to the council meeting does not include the LGAT’s resolution to pay its bills with local businesses within 14 days. The proposal is discussed in the body of his report but does not form part of the recommendation.

The council will also hold a closed meeting to discuss a confidential matter relating to the Valley Children’s Centre. Councillor Frank Pearce is listed as an apology for both meetings, along with Mr Barrett. The agenda for the open meeting is available here.

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