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Unprecedented times call for unprecedented action.
Already we have had to make difficult decisions to protect our community from the spread of Coronavirus. While some Council services are being appropriately suspended, it is imperative that we continue to deliver our critical Council services such as collecting our rubbish bins, fixing our roads, maintaining our parks and delivering Meals on Wheels. These decisions are being made to ensure we are protecting our staff, our community, our family, and our loved ones, while also providing core social infrastructure and support to those that need it.
But there is so much more that we can do. To provide further relief and support to our residents and businesses I am proposing that, as a matter of urgency, Council implement my
CBCity Cares Relief Package as set out below. I also ask the General Manager to establish a separate Coronavirus Budget, bringing this to the next Council Meeting quantifying and reconciling our CBCity Cares Relief Package for the community.
As a result of the closure, or suspension of any Council facility or service, that Council will hold fees and charges in credit or provide refunds for Not for Profits, casual hirers or those with genuine cases of hardship. Examples of this include Council's Learn to Swim Program, children ninja playgroup and gym memberships. Where users are cancelling their use of facilities owing to appropriate social distancing and Coronavirus, such as meeting rooms, sporting fields or community halls, Council will similarly hold a credit or provide a refund.
To support small businesses we will waive footway dining fees for 6 months and allow businesses to defer payments for mandatory food and fire inspections for 6 months with no interest to apply. As part of the Coronavirus budget I also ask the General Manager to identify any other fees and charges that could be waived, or deferred, to assist our community and small businesses.
We recognise that sales, attraction of customers, and cash flow will be a pressing issue for small businesses in the coming weeks and months, as people practice social distancing. In order to deliver additional direct support to businesses, I propose that Council allocate $250,000 to set up a
Smart City-Smart Business Grant to assist businesses develop or improve their e-commerce capabilities and online marketing. These Smart City Smart-Business grants will be made available through a streamlined application process and will offer dollar for dollar funding up to a maximum of $2,000, to businesses with a turnover below $5M. Activities supported will include developing an online marketplace, social media marketing, and website development.
Some community organisations that have received Community Grant funding from Council, may no longer be able deliver their events or activities. Therefore, I am recommending that Council extend the delivery and acquittal timeframe by 12 months in order to allow these events, activities and programs to proceed when things improve.
In relation to Council rates, it is important to recognise that these funds pay for the very core essential services needed to keep this city safe and functioning. Council already has a compassionate Rates Hardship Policy in place that deals with those that may find it difficult to pay. During these more challenging times, I am requesting the General Manager to review this policy in light of the significant pressures that may lie ahead. This report will focus on providing temporary relief to those in need and will be presented to the next Council meeting. In the coming months, rate notices will need to be sent out and we are working on some clear messaging to ensure those in genuine hardship can be assisted through this difficult time.
In relation to the legislative framework for rating, and applicable interest to deferred rates set by the NSW Government, I urge the Premier to make special provision in the next round of stimulus funding. This funding should assist those in genuine circumstances of hardship, avoid legislative interest on deferred rates and also cover part rate "discounts" for those in need. Notwithstanding our review of our Rates Hardship Policy reveal what more Council and the NSW Government can do.
We recognise it is not just our residents that will be under pressure, but many of our businesses who provide the milk, the clothes or the places for our community to celebrate. Whilst Council acknowledges the financial support that both the Federal and State Governments are providing our communities, more focus needs to be placed on protecting our small business, our clubs, non-for-profits and our large workforce of casuals. With an excess of 4000 small businesses and one of the largest casual workforces throughout the state, our local government area will be one of the hardest hit. I call on the State Government to implement a tax stimulus, including reviewing areas such as Land Tax to ensure they stay afloat and continue to employ our residents in the workforce. It is also vitally important that there are stimulus and tax relief measures in place for businesses to reinvest in people and goods as this pandemic eases, for without them many businesses will simply never recover and the jobs for our residents will forever disappear.
We have all seen the chaotic scenes in our supermarkets of people fighting over toilet paper and the long queues snaking onto footpaths. While Council cannot control this behaviour, or the supply of goods, we also don't want to be an impediment to shops getting much needed deliveries. We initiated and introduced flexible truck delivery times and lobbied the NSW Government to change their planning restrictions, allowing 24 hour truck deliveries. They have now done this. While this may cause some minor disruption it will allow supermarket shelves to be stocked quicker and residents to get access to the goods they need. I can assure residents when this crisis is over, I will seek to have the previous restrictions reinstated.
While I know our community is concerned about the implications of the Coronavirus, I also know our staff and Councillors are equally concerned about the impact on them. That is why we have put in place measures to protect their own health and wellbeing. Measures include putting in place strict social distancing measures at our offices and Council chambers and the halting of all non essential travel, training and face to face meetings. Any costs associated with these activities that have been cancelled that can not be recovered will be covered by Council and reflected in the Budget.
Last week we deployed technology to enable our community to make and maintain appointments to meet with Council staff and for those appointments to be held electronically. Of course, we have many citizens without access to such technology. As a result we have set up an area within Council where they can use our technology to electronically engage with Council officers. With the recent decision to close all of our Libraries, it is important that we still provide some level of service. Therefore, I am proposing we set up a 'Click and Collect' library book service to supplement our regular e-library. In addition, it is recognised some of our community do not have access to the internet or computers. While Libraries will be closed, I am proposing that a booking arrangement is put in place to allow for restricted access to computer and internet facilities. Our community need to know that where they have essential business to conduct with us, we are open and able to engage with them safely.
I recognise this is an unsettling period for staff, especially those in casual positions. I recognise that closing our aquatics facilities has an impact on our regular Learn to Swim casual staff and lifeguards. Therefore, I am proposing that these staff who are unable to perform their shift as a result of the pool closure, will still be paid their forward rostered hours until the end of term one this year.
I also propose that if a staff member (including regular casual staff) is unable to work because they must self-isolate, we will pay up to two weeks special leave based on their forward rostered hours (less any Federal Government payment to which they may be entitled).
But there is more we can do to support our casual staff. I have recently made contact with community organisations, including those providing care and services for the elderly and disabled and who are in desperate need of casual support workers. Tonight, I am asking the General Manager to contact organisations in the City who may benefit from the skills of our casual staff, many of whom have transferable skills and the necessary compliance checks. Similarly we will reach out to businesses in our City that find themselves needing to reduce their workforce, we will connect their great staff to the support organisations and businesses that have high short term needs through this crisis.
Council has also commenced training and redeploying staff, including casuals, to assist in other core service areas of Council. This will ensure we maintain, and in some instances increase, essential services such as city cleaning, waste collection and customer service. These measures will provide a flexible workforce in the event Council staff are hit with Coronavirus. We want to do everything in our control to ensure minimal disruption to services.
While there is a significant amount of uncertainty over how long this will last, what we do know is that we will need to continue to respond and implement new measures. Not only Council, but the broader community can take a more active role in supporting and caring for the vulnerable and most in need in our community. This is not just the elderly or frail. The shift workers who can't get to the shops for supplies, or the parent who needs some assistance with childcare, the neighbour who needs a lift to the shops, or simply someone to make a phone call to see if you are alright. It is easy to forget that some people don't have a family, or a network of friends to support them.
In order to prepare for this, I am instigating our
Community Cares Initiative. This will initially commence with a call to the community to see who can volunteer to help others and to those who may need some form of assistance. I propose that Council use a range of communication channels, from direct mail to residents through to our traditional media and social media. Council has secured the use of a hotline 13CORONA which we intend to initially use to obtain the above information.
As I mentioned before, our priority is the health and wellbeing of our community. To address this, Council has already immediately responded by increasing our cleaning regime in our streets and community buildings. This is not about sterilizing all parts of the city, but providing reassurance and emphasising the importance of good hygiene. While physical health is important, equally important is the mental health and wellbeing of our community. I am requesting the General Manager set up a
Keep Connected Program to explore ways to keep our community socially connected and engaged during this time when social distancing is in place. In particular I want to explore the opportunity for Council to host Facebook Live Events. This will connect the community but also fund local creative arts and performers who have been severely hit by the important and necessary social distancing measures.
Looking ahead, Council has a Plan in place to ensure our essential services continue to be delivered. Measures have been put in place to ensure that critical staff can work remotely or from home. Staff are also being redirected to key service areas. For example, Council truck drivers are learning how to operate our waste trucks. Of course I ask that our community have compassion and patience as we deploy this important measure seeing some of the staff who collect litter and cut the grass move from those nice to have services to the essential, we need, services of picking up bins, taking calls and delivering meals on wheels. I will not apologise for prioritising our meals on wheels customers being fed over cutting residential front lawns.
As one of the most diverse communities in Australia, I am fully aware of the challenges with getting the message out to our community. I understand the disappointment many have in the loss of our cultural events that bind us together. With changes impacting on all corners of our community I will be working closely with the ethnic media to ensure the message gets through to as many people as possible. I also understand that now is a difficult time to engage with our community on other matters affecting the City. Therefore, I am requesting the General Manager review all non-essential exhibitions and public engagement. I have also written to the Minister of Planning and Public Open Space seeking an extension of 12 months to the LEP process. This will allow us to engage with the community in the genuine manner we had proposed before the virus outbreak.
All of the above actions come at a cost. While it is not possible to predict how much it will be at this time I foreshadow that there will be at least a $5 Million impact on our budget to deliver this CBCity Cares Relief Package however I am sure you will agree that this CBCity Cares Relief Package is critically important.
It is also important that we understand the implications and have the information to guide future decisions, therefore the General Manager will bring forward a separate Coronavirus Budget capturing all of these costs to Council. This will assist with any future call for financial assistance from the NSW Government if and when needed. This Quarterly Budget Review will be presented at the next meeting of Council to validate our CBCity Cares Relief Package and Council's Draft 2020/21 Operational Plan will also need to take into consideration any future predicted costs. The General Manager will also review Council's Grants and Sponsorship Policy together with the Rates and Financial Hardship Policy, particularly with the view to be able to address the need to financially assist our community during cases of emergencies and/or necessity, such as these times.
Over the coming days and weeks we will continue to review and implement measures to ensure we continue to deliver our critical services. I am sure this
CBCity Cares Relief Package will only be the first of many changes we must bring in to manage this situation. However, I feel as a Council we have the responsibility and obligation to show leadership and implement measures to get us through this.
One last measure that I want to ensure we support is that we record all the wonderful innovation, community goodwill and partnerships that come out of this. During times of hardship and crisis humans find a way to survive and I am seeing the best of humanity and the best of our Canterbury-Bankstown citizens. We should never forget the best of us and ensure that we celebrate this and ensure we become a better community, and definitely a better Council after this time passes.
Finally, I wish to thank the staff and the community for rallying together to ensure that we do this with care, compassion and support of each other.
One last measure that I want to ensure we support is that we record all the wonderful innovation, community goodwill and partnerships that come out of this. During times of hardship and crisis humans find a way to survive and I am seeing the best of humanity and the best of our Canterbury Bankstown citizens. We should never forget the best of us and ensure that we celebrate this and ensure we become a better community, and definitely a better Council after this time passes.
Finally, I wish to thank the staff and the community for rallying together to ensure that we do this with care, compassion and support of each other.
I move the above and seek Council's support on the matter.
24/03/2020 5:09 PM