New temporary measures to aid NSW councils to provide COVID-19 relief to their constituents, as well as permanent changes to assist Councils to deliver their services more efficiently and effectively, have been introduced by the Local Government (General) Amendment (COVID-19) Regulation 2020, which amends the Local Government (General) Regulation 2005.
It appears that the measures are intended to reduce costs for councils and provide them with additional time to satisfy their statutory requirements during the crisis, as well as encouraging local governments to provide financial relief to families and businesses that have suffered as a result of the pandemic. However it is unlikely that a one-month extension for rates payments will be an adequate extension for local communities during such extraordinary times.
Assisting councils to manage the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic
The following measures have been adopted to allow councils to prioritise their resources over the next few months. It is hoped that these measures will reduce the strain on councils and allow them to focus their efforts on addressing the impact of pandemic:
- The date for adopting the operational plan of a council for the year beginning 1 July 2020 has been extended. The plan must now be adopted before 31 July 2020 rather than 30 June 2020;
- The date for preparing financial reports and annual reports have both been extended by one month. The reports are now due 5 and 6 months respectively, after 30 June 2020;
- Removing the need for councils to make physical copies of documents available at their offices, providing such copies are made available online or to an individual upon request. Examples of such documents include meeting agendas, plans of management, approvals for filming, local policies and manuals relating to land management; and
- Budget review statements for the quarter ending 31 March 2020 are to be submitted no later than 3 months after the end of the quarter rather than 2 months. This particular amendment will be repealed on 1 July 2020.
Councils to provide relief to the public
The following temporary modifications have been introduced to reduce the financial burden on families and individuals during COVID-19:
- Annual rates and charges which were payable by 31 August 2020 are instead payable by 30 September 2020; and
- Councils can waive the payment of, or reduce a fee without first giving public notice of the category of hardship the waiver falls under, providing it relates to a response to COVID-19.
With the exception of the budget review statement amendment, the above provisions will be repealed after 6 months, or earlier by direction of Parliament.
The Regulation also introduces the ability for councils to publish notices electronically on the council website as opposed to being required to publish them in a newspaper. These amendments are permanent and will continue after the COVID-19 crisis. The following notices now fall under this amendment:
- Open and selective tendering advertisements;
- Notices setting out the dates of constitutional referendums and council polls;
- Water supply restrictions;
- Public notice of draft local approvals policies, public notices of approval and public notice of local orders policies;
- Consultations concerning categorisation of land as an area of cultural significance and filming projects on areas of cultural significance; and
- Notice of amendment of council's annual financial reports.