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28 April 2020

Today is the first day of our return to Level 3 – it feels good to be able to write that, but I am very aware we are far from returning to normal living.

Indeed, for many of us, the restrictions of living at Level 3 are similar to those at Level 4.

But what the change does signify is progress in the fight against COVID-19.

The battle is not over, but the council’s focus is now very much on how we can help push the community’s social and economic recovery.

Last week we announced the first measures already in place to help – including removing rates penalties and parking fees, paying suppliers weekly rather than fortnightly, and extending the time for people to act on building consents by six months.

But these steps are only the beginning. We are looking at a whole range of options in the way the council operates, aimed at making life easier for businesses and residents affected by the COVID-19 response.

Last week also saw the end of the consultation process on our annual plan. It was suggested by some that we should extend the consultation period due to the lockdown, but we actually received more than 330 submissions, a better response than we might normally expect for an annual plan.

As I said last week, councillors will be going through the annual plan with a fine-tooth comb to ensure we get the maximum benefit while limiting as far as possible the burden on ratepayers, both in the next year, and future years.

That includes the major projects we asked the community about – the Town Hall, Henley Lake, and the skatepark.

We are acutely aware that many in our community will have been affected financially by COVID-19, including losing jobs, and now find themselves in a position they would have considered unimaginable six months ago. Rest assured, we will be working to support everyone in the community as we recover.

Council projects have a major role to play in driving the economy. If you see council work happening, the people doing that work will be getting paid, and will spend that money with other businesses in the community.

There are three criteria against which we will measure our decisions when considering what to proceed with – we need to be targeted in our approach, ensure these decisions have ongoing positive impacts, and be sure we are not just deferring important spending.

There has been some suggestion of simply freezing rates, but a decision like that can have unintended consequences, leading to bigger rates increases in coming years. That needs to be considered.

Some of the work we want to do will have a wellbeing focus.

After all, our recovery will be based on people and their wellbeing – people working, people connecting, people returning to “normal” life, whatever that looks like.

Masterton District Council will be here to support our communities to come through this well and rebuild what I believe can be an even better Masterton in years to come.