COUNCIL staff are too valuable to have their pay docked while they continue to work through the Covid-19 lockdown say Eastern Bay mayors.

Last week, the Bay of Plenty Regional Council leadership team announced they will be donating 10 percent of their salaries for the next six months, however, Eastern Bay mayors have not asked, nor expect, their teams to do the same.

Opotiki Mayor Lyn Riesterer said some staff and councillor households were facing the “same deep uncertainty” as other members of the community.

“I have been very clear with our chief executive and councillors that now is not the time for rushed decisions,” Ms Riesterer said.

“I feel strongly that it is my responsibility to ensure that the decisions we make, especially in the heart of a global pandemic, must be either part of the current work to ensure our essential services continue for our communities, or they must contribute to the strong and sustained recovery of our district.

“As a council, we will continue to talk about how we can take a leadership role and ease the economic burden on our local households, but I will not be asking that they reduce their pay at a time when their households need it most.”

Ms Riesterer said if any staff or councillors wanted to contribute through voluntary donations to charities of their choice, she would encourage them to do so and council could help facilitate that.

“The chief executive has spoken publicly about how proud she is of staff going above and beyond in these unprecedented circumstances and I would like to reiterate that,” Ms Riesterer said.

“Currently staff are very busy keeping our essential services running such as waste, sewerage, water supply and particularly at the moment, additional work managing the Civil Defence response to Covid-19.

“Council staff have had an incredibly busy year and face several more years of hard work to recover from the Covid-19 shock and deliver some large-scale projects including one of the largest infrastructure projects in New Zealand with our harbour entrance.”

Ms Riesterer said the Eastern Bay had millions of dollars of PGF investment coming in the coming months and years and so, as much as possible, she wanted to ensure the council held onto the “incredible people” it had serving the district so the community “can continue to paddle the waka in the same direction and not lose sight of these big goals”.

Whakatane Mayor Judy Turner said Whakatane District Council needed to be a “prudent and wise organisation” that looked at short to long term responsibilities and also needed to be a sound and responsible employer.

“Staff are working hard to present elected members with a range of funding and financing options that will look to reduce the impacts on residents and ratepayers as a result of the Covid-19 impact,” she said.

“However, we need to ensure that we can keep delivering essential services across our district and that our organisation is ready to deliver all of our responsibilities in months to come.

“Central Government is committed to supporting the Whakatane Provincial Growth Fund projects and we need to ensure we have the teams of people to execute these, this is not the time to undermine these legacy projects.”

Mrs Turner said further to this, provincial councils such as those in the Eastern Bay were already at the lowest end of the remuneration scale.

She said council staff were working incredibly hard and she was proud of how they had faced the April 2017 floods, Whakaari eruption and now the Covid-19 response which had only increased the burden.

“Our staff are working at home and will be for some time to come; we need to consider how this impacts on them and their families,” Mrs Turner said.

“We are a significant employer in our district, our staff contribute to the resilience of our district economy through those wages and salaries. We do not want to impair this just as the economy is released into action. Spending in our district right now is critical.

“The councillors and I are incredibly proud of our staff and how hard they work for our community. We want to support and enable them to do their best.”

Kawerau mayor Malcolm Campbell said whether staff were working remotely in their roles or providing essential services such as rubbish collection and disposal their commitment to the council and to the safety of the public needed to be acknowledged.

Mr Campbell said as well as working to provide essential services, staff were assisting the Bay of Plenty Civil Defence group.

Council staff were also working remotely on economic recovery plans that stretched beyond the emergency response phase. This has seen significant collaboration with neighbouring councils and key regional organisations.

Progressing the planning of important capital and infrastructure projects which need to be completed for public safety and asset improvements has been the work for other operations staff based at home.

Another large scope of work will be the Kawerau Putauaki Industrial Development, that central government has reaffirmed its commitment to during the Covid-19 pandemic after its provincial growth funding announcement earlier this year.

Mr Campbell said these projects would provide employment and a key injection of funds into the local economy.

“In addition, like most councils, we will be reviewing our annual plan and priorities post-Covid-19,” he said.

“Our staff are working to provide financially prudent options and plans for the future to sustain the essential operations.

“We are a small district and have a hard-working staff, who we would like to acknowledge during these challenging times.”