Port Stephens councillors on Tuesday night approved a range of measures to support the community through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mayor Ryan Palmer said the COVID-19 Recovery Response and COVID-19 Financial Support package, both approved during the April 14 ordinary meeting, will "ensure council operations" and "boost local economies".
"We know that Port Stephens is already suffering the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis and without additional assistance, council may be forced to cut services, infrastructure projects, maintenance works and staff," he said.
"We're doing everything possible to provide support and deliver services needed to protect community health and keep our communities running during these difficult times.
"However, council face increased costs and at the same time, we are experiencing declining revenue with business closures and more and more ratepayers forced into financial hardship.
"It is critical that the local government sector receives adequate funding and resources to coordinate and deliver the services needed to navigate through and recover from, natural disasters and the new challenges presented by COVID-19 and its massive impacts on people and our local economies.
"Council needs urgent financial assistance from the Federal Government and NSW State Government to maintain infrastructure, services and employment as well as funding to give Council the capacity to provide hardship assistance to the community."
The council will now:
- Make hardship support more accessible
- Commit to local procurement through local businesses
- Investigate with NSW Health and emergency services a review of access to boat ramps for locals only
- Council will investigate 1 extra kerbside collection for green waste
- Review Council's grants program, targeted to support our community's response to COVID-19
- Reaffirm the Tourism and Business Support Fund
- Investigate the expansion our eLibrary service
- Review support for community services
- Supporting NSW Government COVID-19 recommendations and initiatives
- Investigate the use of Holiday Parks to support the most vulnerable in our community
- Commit to the preparation of a full Community Response and Recovery Plan
Councillors, who for the first time met for an ordinary meeting through video conference which was webcast for the community to watch, also agreed to urge the State and Federal Governments to provide local government assistance to support essential council services during the global pandemic.
Port Stephens Council is asking for an increase to financial assistance from the Federal Government to help maintain essential functions and services as well as giving assistance to businesses and residents.
The Port community is also being invited to have its say on the annual review of a number of key planning documents which will guide the council's priorities during the coming financial year.
The council last night resolved to place the Integrated Planning and Reporting documents, as well as Fees and Charges, on public exhibition for community feedback.
Cr Palmer says this regular review process has been significantly impacted by COVID-19.
"These are unprecedented times in Port Stephens and for all Australians as we come to terms with the evolving threat of COVID-19," he said.
"These documents, including the draft annual budget, fees and charges, capital works projects and more, were all prepared well before COVID-19 began to impact us all in such unpredictable ways.
"While we still need to publicly exhibit these documents under the Local Government Act, we'll be taking on board feedback and reviewing these documents prior to a final report going to Council in June."
Mayor Palmer says the impacts of COVID-19 have been far-reaching.
"As the situation develops we will be reviewing how our Council's services and projects are delivered and adapt these accordingly," he said.
"In some cases, as we're seeing already, services and projects will need to be delivered in alternate ways or postponed to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
"As always, we prepare, plan and review our draft budget, works and service delivery with our community's best interest at heart - our focus is on getting through this together and remaining resilient.
"We've had to close our facilities as a result of COVID-19, so I'd encourage anyone who is interested in having a say to go to our website to find out how you can make a submission."
To view the documents on public exhibition and have a say, visit portstephens.nsw.gov.au/public-exhibition before 5pm on Friday, May 15.