Jobs key to city' s future, says King

EVAN HARDING
Last updated 05:00 05/02/2013

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The uncertain future of the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter makes it imperative for the Invercargill City Council to continue pursuing new job opportunities in the city, the council's chief executive says.

Richard King was last week reappointed to the chief executive's role for a five-year term after a long appointment process. The process sparked controversy on several counts, but Mr King declined to comment on those issues yesterday.

He was, however, happy to discuss the challenges facing the city in the next five years.

Mr King, who oversees 332 permanent staff at the council, of whom 234 are fulltime employees, said his role was to ensure council staff carried out the policies of the elected councillors.

Creating jobs and keeping the rates down to affordable levels were two of the priorities for the council over the next five years, he said.

"We live in a great city with fantastic resources and facilities and the people have a great lifestyle . . . but people won't come here unless they have got a job."

The uncertain future of the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter made it imperative for the council to continue pursuing job opportunities for the city, he said.

The unemployment rate of 5.3 per cent could double in a short time if the Tiwai smelter closed, Mr King said, and that would put the city into a downward spiral.

"We have got to get more strings to our bow. That's why we are looking at industrial land, events, films, everything we can, so if we have a calamity, at least there's something else to fall back on."

"But we are reasonably confident that sense will prevail and the smelter will stay," Mr King said.

He said the elected councillors had given council staff a clear message to keep the rates down.

"We have to reduce our costs without dropping the levels of service . . . I think we can do it."

On council debt, Mr King said the city council and its holding company Holdco owed $69.5 million which was "relatively low compared to other provincial cities".

He attributed that to "prudent management" and strong support from community funders the Invercargill Licensing Trust and Community Trust of Southland, he said.

"If we didn't have those two powerful organisations our debt would be much greater for the likes of the Splash Palace swimming complex, Stadium Southland and the Civic Theatre."

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