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Speaking to about 350 people at an online meeting organised by the resort’s Chamber of Commerce yesterday, Mr Boult said he was concerned by the plight of more than 2000 workers on short-term visas who had registered with the council for welfare assistance since the lockdown began on March 25.
Even worse, the funding would stop when the lockdown ended, and he was worried many would be unable to meet basic living costs.
He raised his concerns with Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway nearly a fortnight ago, particularly in relation to essential skills working visa holders, but had yet to hear back about any specific initiatives.
Mr Boult said he was also speaking to government ministers on a daily basis about the need for "hundreds of millions" of dollars spending on capital works in the district.
Suitable projects included the long-mooted arterial bypass of the resort’s town centre, a council office building and arts centre on Stanley St — a joint venture with Ngai Tahu Property — and an upgrade of the town centre.
Although none strictly met the Government’s definition of "shovel-ready", the town centre upgrade could begin in the "relatively short term" and work on the bypass project could conceivably begin before the end of the year.
The average rates increase of nearly 7% proposed for the next financial year was now "off the table", and he favoured an increase in line with inflation, he said.
He ruled out a rates reduction because the council’s income would be "severely decimated" by the lockdown and the pandemic’s ongoing impact.
In a media statement yesterday, Mr Boult announced a council steering group would be formed to set up two task forces to guide the rebuild of the district’s shattered economy.
The group would decide on the terms of reference and membership of the task forces, of which one would focus on community recovery and the other on economic recovery.