SOUTH Gippsland Shire Council has pulled together a $2 million COVID-19 community support package.

Focusing on health, connection and innovation, the package provides measures to support residents, businesses and the community, and to stimulate the local economy during and after the pandemic.

It will be delivered by a dedicated project management team working with key stakeholder groups including the Municipal Emergency Management Committee and the Business Emergency Leadership Group.

The package has been funded by $0.5 million in savings from four infrastructure projects that came in under budget, and by drawing down $1.5 million from council’s reserves.

Administrator Christian Zahra said it would make “a real difference in the lives of our community” and it was “good news for the people of South Gippsland that we are in a strong financial position and a good place to do this”.

“You need to be in a strong financial position to be able to have a package like this,” Mr Zahra said.

The community support package includes:

  •  A subsidised flu vaccine program.
  • Mental health support programs for residents.
  •  Increased local procurement and rapid payment for contractors and suppliers.
  •  Expansion of community grants with more grants to be awarded using a broader criteria.
  •  Development of a community outreach program with key agencies to provide community support.

Chairman of administrators Julie Eisenbise responded to a comment from a member of the public that council was not Centrelink, by saying council did not provide the same support as Centrelink but had a responsibility to triage people and help them to access services such as Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

Administrator Rick Brown said speeding up payments to local suppliers and contractors supported cashflow which was critical to riding out the emergency.

Council also adopted a COVID-19 Pandemic Rates and Charges Hardship Policy at last week’s council meeting.

Key principles of the new policy include extending hardship eligibility from residential properties only to all categories; waiving the requirement to have hardship evidenced by a qualified financial counsellor; no interest charge; and payment dates able to be deferred by agreement to as late as June 30, 2021.