COVID-19: What your council candidates plan to do about it
VOTERS in the Maranoa Region will head to the polls this Saturday to decide the next mayor and eight councillors to lead the region through what is without a doubt the biggest challenge the southwest has faced in some time.
However you, the voters, decide in this local government election, there is no doubt the top priority of the new Maranoa Regional Council will be dealing with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We asked all candidates: In your opinion, how can council support those residents and businesses who have lost, or will lose everything as this crisis continue? And, when this is all over, how should council support the region in re-building?
The best thing council can do in the short term is to keep providing as many services as possible despite the difficulties. As a larger employer the challenges will be profound. Even council meetings and workshops are highly unlikely to be able to be held in their traditional form given that a gathering of nine councillors will likely violate current rules, even without staff and visitors.
I suspect the coronavirus will lead to an underspend of the budget which should reduce the need for rates increase this year. However it will be even more important to spend responsibly and avoid large scale redistribution of the rates burden promoted by the Mayor. I will lobby for the return of Centrelink to the Maranoa but I suspect that office will now be quickly returned, quite possibly in Mitchell as well as Roma. But representing and fighting for those people who will lose their businesses and jobs will be critical over coming months. People often fall through the cracks of government assistance. Most importantly I just hope we don't lose anyone at all to this virus.
If I am elected as Mayor, I will work with council to bring a compassionate approach to all ratepayers and residents. I will also implement local operating policies, which will be needed more than ever to stimulate economic growth and to support local businesses and jobs in each community of the Maranoa. I will work with council to do everything in my power to ensure that our region can, and will, bounce back from this difficult time. In short, I would like to everyone in the Maranoa to feel that 'council has their back'.
The economic impact of the COVID-19 virus will definitely be a major consideration for the new council. Mitigating the impacts will need to involve all 3 levels of government working very closely together. Measures Council has already taken such as shortening payment terms to contractors from 30 to 14 days and extending the rates discount period are examples of future measures from a local government level. As we move past the peak infection period, which they said on the news yesterday would be May/ June, we will need financial support from other levels of government to get the economy rolling again. I believe capital projects will need to be brought forward and investment into essential community infrastructure would be a good starting point.
These are uncertain times as COVID-19 unfolds. Short term, MRC need to provide accurate information and direct physical/emotional support for residents. The Federal Government announced new business initiatives, and MRC can "value add" and provide staff to assist and "unpack" these. Long term, MRC must reassess priorities and review internal operations. Financially, individuals and businesses will be hurting so rate's freeze is now a "given". The new Council will need to strategically determine our best options. I support Project Managers established in every locality responding to local concerns, and contributing to a whole-of-region priority agenda. We are all in this together and MRC must proactively provide leadership.
The next 18 months is going to be extremely challenging. As far as I am concerned, everything is on the table. If elected I will ensure that the response is measured, timely and the impacts are well thought out. When it comes to this health and economic crisis, Council must work as a team to formulate the right response for our communities to come out the other side. We must listen to the experts and recognise that more than ever before we will need the support of our State and Federal Governments to cushion the blow to businesses and residents.
Council have already extended the discount period for rates payment by on month to Tuesday 5th May 2020, debt recovery has been put on hold, council will also reduce the payment terms for all approved suppliers to fortnightly until the end of May. In my PERSONAL opinion I believe council will have to look at reducing or possibly suspending any rental payments for small business operating from council owned facilities. I also believe with the budget coming up council will have to SERIOUSLY look at rates, with the majority of businesses in the MRC either having to cease trading or operate at reduced capacity cash flow will be a major problem. In addition to this there has been a large number of wage earners affected, some retrenched others have had hours reduced, this will putt financial pressure on many families who directly or indirectly pay rates .
I think whoever the new Council is, their approach to the crisis should be a united one. The team should liaise with each individual business to see what their immediate needs are, and progress from there. Once all businesses are up and running then the unemployment fallout can be tackled. It will be a slow and frustrating process, but we all must stand together.
Council can support residents by announcing updates about the virus from official sources and councils Disaster Management Meetings. The possibility of rate relief and lowering charges are options. There may be scope for building infrastructure and employing extra staff for road maintenance, park and street beatification. This extra stimulus will depend on our level of existing debt. Council and the disaster management team should be aggressively lobbying for the return of our Centrelink office so assistance available now, can be distributed. There will be government grants available to councils during and after this crisis that we should be preparing for now.
These are tough times, and likely to get worse before things improve. Now more than ever communities must pull together. All we can do for the present is take notice of warnings and instructions from health and government officials. If everyone does their bit, we can get through this. Live local, stay local, shop local, lets keep these towns alive as much as is possible in these trying times. As for the aftermath, who knows what is in store for us. I am sure that there is light at the end of the tunnel, it will be a bumpy ride, but hang in there
The decision will be made collectively by councillors through council policy but in my opinion we should look at providing assistance in helping people access all the support that is available from any area be it Federal, State, Local, public or private. Through operating locally we can provide efficiencies which will enable a rates freeze, provide better roads and provide council with a responsible surplus. These may be short term and long term. Show care and compassion, good decision making and strategic direction.
Council must be proactive in their assistance during the crisis. Council must formulate plans and communicate intentions promptly and effectively. The focus must be on keeping people safe, well and employed and local businesses operating. Council must look to the future and the opportunities that will exist. Proactive preparation to support local businesses in rebuilding, attracting visitors, new business and people to the region must start immediately. We are fortunate to live in a region underpinned by essential industries. Our strength lies in our communities. We are all in this together and together we will ride out COVID-19.
Those that are in financial difficulty need to talk to council - maybe Council will need to set up a special task force for this purpose - to enable them to find help whether it's from a Local, State or Federal level. There are a few ways in which council can support residents and businesses now and when it's over: Council projects could be brought forward to keep employment within council and contractors. Reduce rent on any council leases. Encourage Shop Local even more to help those businesses that are still able to operate. Need to ensure public confidence in council by visible and professional response to this crisis.
This could well be the choice of two "Ifs". First - If in the short to medium term a vaccine or similar is developed to control and stop the coronavirus. Or Second - If the unthinkable happens and the money standard crashes, collapses and is no more. In the first instance, the three tiers of Federal, State and Local Government would combine to assist all sectors of enterprise to re-establish with the minimum of red tape while protecting the needy and monitoring the greedy. My assumption would be that the MRC would be implementing directives from State and Federal Governments. If the Money Standard collapses, perhaps the Maranoa Regional Council will be more involved with all spheres of Society relearning how to live and survive together - I guess supposing mankind does survive!
Council is already off and running to support our local businesses with the following;
Rates discount period has been extended a month to May 5 2020. We will pause debt recovery for all outstanding rates and charges including gas to May 5 2020. Council continues to offer payment arrangements on outstanding rates and encourages ratepayers to make contact if they need their payment plan varied. Fees and charges that have been paid for facility hire will be refunded. To assist cashflow to businesses, council will make approved payment to suppliers of goods and services on fortnightly basis where possible to end of May. Council will continue to monitor this drastic situation and give assistance if possible. Council will continue to communicate closely and support all residents of the Maranoa. Council will be on the front foot in seeking financial support from every possible source to rebuild the region in the future.
Council will need to support locals more than ever and work closely with community. Grants will become available for local government stimulus and we need to be at the head of the cue for our region. The Maranoa is pivotal for food and energy which will need to be maintained, working closely with stakeholders will be vital. There will be risks to manage in the recovery stage and opportunities will arise. At the start of this campaign it was about rates, roads, and growth, now it's about survival-physically and economically. Cohesion in government is imperative.
I do think a rates freeze would take a bit of the financial burden away, howeveras this issue is changing every day, it's very hard to say what we could do at the moment, even the Federal Government seems to be having a tough time dealing with it as best they can. This is an unprecedented situation for everyone, and I would not like to even try and assume to know what we could do, but hopefully the new team of Councillors can work together to find solutions that will be beneficial to all residents of the Maranoa.
We need to have a compassionate council that listens. We need to operate "smart". Expenses and costs to residents should be low while opportunities to work or regain livelihoods need to be high. A freeze on current town, country and commercial rates and perhaps a possible lowering of some fees and charges could be put forward. Local contractors and businesses need to carry out jobs. Underperforming assets such as our quarry and saleyards need to be upgraded and utilised more efficiently. There ARE grants and money available, priority needs to be given to projects that provide residents the best return.
Ms Denton did not respond to the Western Star's questions.
This is a difficult question with no clear-cut answer, as the situation of today will not be the same as tomorrow. Financial difficulties will certainly play a major role for many and we need to do everything we can to assist those people in regards to the payment of rates. Nobody should lose their house right now. Working together with Community and Business groups is a must. As always, we need to listen to the people to find out the needs and assess how we can help and I urge all Councillors and Mayor to volunteer, wherever and whenever needed
This is an unprecedented time in Australia's History so therefore an Individual will not have all the answers, it will take a whole of Council & Community approach to not only support each other while we go through the crisis but to come up with a plan of rebuilding lives and livelihoods in the Maranoa Region. This is not a time for a divided Council but of a Council who can work together with each other, the community, State and Federal Governments for the best outcome for the region. We need to be working on a plan for the region so that we are ready for business the moment the Maranoa can get back to business.
Council have already deferred the due date for rates. Maybe implement a payment plan for those struggling to pay their rates on time and treat each case on a one-on-one basis and not engage a debt collection company as people will be under enough stress as it is without the added burden.
Continue to shop locally and support local businesses.