City fights to support its residents

By Andrew Johnston

THE CITY of Greater Bendigo is doing its utmost to support Heathcote residents during the COVID-19 crisis.

The council announced a series of measures regarding their own services on Friday afternoon.

As of March 27, ratepayers paying quarterly have had their fourth instalment due date extended to June 30.

Those experiencing financial hardship will also have access to flexible rate payment plans, including the ability to defer all payments on rates to September 30, while interest will not be charged for overdue rates or other payments through to the same date.

Mayor Margaret O'Rourke said the council would introduce a number of other measures as well.

“Council will pay all suppliers as quickly as possible in its weekly payment schedule, will temporarily stop following up unpaid animal registrations, and will institute a reduction of council’s commercial rents and ground leases for impacted sporting, community and hospitality venues until at least June 30 this year.”

Council chief executive Craig Niemann said council was responding to the community wide impact of the virus.

“We are committed to supporting the community through this time of uncertainty,” he said.

“This is an unprecedented time that continues to change each day. The city will continue to review the situation and will provide updates to the community if further changes are put in place during this difficult time.”

Council has also delayed the release of the draft 2020/21 budget, with no new date provided.

Cr O'Rourke said it was essential to support residents and do everything possible to ease the burden the crisis causing.

And working with those in Heathcote has been essential.

“We've been planning with groups like Advance Heathcote and Heathcote tourism very closely,” she said.

“There are a number of things we can do, we're working as hard as we can to make this easier on people.

“Our residents still have access to their councillors by phone or by email, council services are still available. We're certainly open for business, but doing it in a different way and from a safe distance.”

Cr O'Rourke begged residents to adhere to the messages coming from health experts to stay at home.

“We need people to stay at home wherever possible,” she said.

“We want people to do the minimal things they can, wash their hands, adhere to social distancing. The more they can stay at home, the better we will come through this.”