Coronavirus has already had a dramatic effect on the community, on council operations, and on business across the Queanbeyan-Palerang council area, but Mayor Tim Overall believes people have responded well to a dire situation.
"Everybody needs to take responsibility," Cr Overall said. "I see across our area they generally are, so let's get on top of this!"
The mood, the mayor thinks, is one of resignation and apprehension at the same time. Whether in the street or shopping, he has been pleased to see people practice social distancing, standing apart and not engaging closely.
"If you don't need to be out, don't be out," the mayor advised the community. "Stay home; particularly do not go to the coast."
While some people might want to isolate for the weekend at their beach property, they put themselves and others at risk. Health facilities on the coast are limited compared to Queanbeyan or Canberra.
"We're not sure what the situation will be in the next couple of weeks, and you do not want to become isolated from health facilities at the coast, or take up medical services that are best kept for the people who live there permanently."
The mayor himself will continue working from his office rather than at home. "My office is very much isolated from the rest of the staff, so I can come and go to the office without infringing social distancing," Cr Overall said.
Otherwise, he finds his calendar much emptier. Almost six months of events and speaking engagements - a third of his workload - has been cancelled.
That gives him time to attend to the list of must-dos on his kitchen fridge door - gardening and maintenance work he's put off for recent years - and check on people who might need help.
"I've called people I know who are elderly or vulnerable one way or another to this virus, just to check how they're tracking at home, and whether they need any personal assistance with shopping or anything else," Cr Overall said.
These are the early days of the semi-confinement process; the mayor expects state and federal pandemic measures to change over the next fortnight - and people to become more frustrated by May. "I think it's going to become more difficult as we potentially get into Stage 3 closedowns," Cr Overall said.
At times like this, the mayor urged, everybody should look out for one another, particularly the elderly and vulnerable. "It is a difficult situation, but it's about really caring for each other as a community," he said.
Coronavirus will also affect the economy, the mayor predicts.
"It's difficult to gauge in terms of monetary impact, employment, and so forth, but the impact is clearly going to be severe," Cr Overall said. "We're trying to do what we can as a council to work with business and support them."
One way is to set up mentoring programs to help food premises transition to take-away outlets, or to help businesses target new online markets. Information will be available from the council website (https://www.qprc.nsw.gov.au/Home).
At its first April meeting, council will review its financial assistance and hardship policy, and procedures to help struggling businesses, ratepayers, and lessees.
NSW legislation prevents council from rebating or waiving general rates, the mayor said, but council is streamlining its financial hardship policy to minimize paperwork, as it did for bushfire victims. This way, QPRC will be able to cater for deferred rate payments and payments of rates by arrangement over an extended period.
Council will waive interest charges on outstanding rates, so any ratepayer can apply under the hardship policy. Donations to assist community educational and recreational groups could include assistance with rates and charges.
"They're just some of the things that we're looking at to assist the community," Cr Overall said.
Council moved on Wednesday to formally review in September the closures of facilities and services - but, the mayor said, these will be reviewed each council meeting.
"The reality is we're going to have to review this as and when circumstances change - in other words, when directives or guidelines come out from the Australian government, the prime minister, or the New South Wales government. It's a moveable situation."
Local politics have already been forced to change. Council elections scheduled for September across NSW have been deferred to September 2021, with possible extension to the end of next year. The mayor congratulated the NSW government and Minister for Local Government on the decision.
"It's about certainty," he said. "It gives certainty to elected councilors and potential candidates who want to stand for election. More importantly, it gives a level of certainty to our residents. We are in very uncertain times, very difficult and challenging times, so the last thing we need is a further level of uncertainty as regards elections. Now the situation is clear."
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