The Shire council has banded together in a stunning move to free up $2 million to help residents affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
During the council’s first televised meeting on Wednesday night, Shire president Ian Earl moved the community care package as urgent business “to help and support our community through this crisis as best we can”.
The $2 million fund was announced along with plans for a zero per cent rate increase next year “as a minimum”, active plans to budget for rates reductions, a waiving of all fees and charges — including free tip access — free after-hours child care for essential health workers, and further investigation of ways to help the region’s hard-hit business community.
The community fund was still under development, but was targeted to include community support measures, including mental health; help with transport, deliveries and supplies; crisis accommodation; technology and information support; and business funding and financial counselling as well as future marketing support when traders reopen.
As with its 2011 bushfires emergency response, the Shire had already won praise this week for leading local government responses to COVID-19.
Wednesday night’s decision was unanimously backed by elected members who praised Cr Earl for the move.
The funds would come from the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River’s waste management reserve, after a month’s public consultation — and councillors also paid homage to past leadership ensuring ratepayer funds were available for a “rainy day”.
“This is that rainy day,” Cr Earl said.
“If these funds prove to be insufficient, then more will be made available. Any ratepayer feeling financial stress from monies owed to the Shire should ring our finance staff.
“You will be dealt with sympathetically.”
Deputy Shire president Pauline McLeod said hundreds of people across the district had already lost jobs.
“Ensuring the protection and safety of our community is paramount,” she said.
“The situation is precarious and likely to get worse … (but) together we can get through this.”
Other support options would be explored as the pandemic continues to unfold.