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Name: Gary Tong

Age: 57

Occupation: Mayor

Marital Status: Have a partner

Council experience: Mayor since 2013; former Southland District Council employee; past chairman of Manapouri community development area subcommittee; past Tuatapere Community Board member

Describe yourself in three words: Loyal, resourceful, straightforward

Gary Tong was a fresh face when he was elected in 2013.

He arrived in Southland in 1981 as a young police officer, serving in Bluff and Invercargill before “falling in love” with Tuatapere and its outdoors lifestyle. He and his then wife and two daughters had planned to stay two years – they were there 14 and a half. After a 25-year career in the police force, Mr Tong moved on to various jobs including managing Borland Lodge in Fiordland, Fish & Game warden, property officer with the Southland District Council, and co-owner/operater of a holiday park on the outskirts of Invercargill. He still co-owns that business but has stepped back from day to day involvement.

Why are you standing for mayor? To continue encouraging people to come to Southland. We have a great lifestyle here and the Southland Regional Development Strategy (SoRDS) goal – to increase Southland’s population by 10,000 by 2025 – is building on that.

It was interesting and exciting 12 months into my role when there was a meeting with [Gore mayor] Tracy Hicks [Invercargill mayor] Tim Shadbolt, [Environment Southland chairman] Ali Timms and myself. We decided to put the idea of a a regional development strategy to our chief executives and to Southland, and none of us could believe how quick the uptake was.

Nine action teams were formed and it totally blew me away that there were 90-odd people who would give their time outside their business commitments to get on board. Southland is a great place to work, live and play. However we need to keep up with what is happening around the world. We can’t rest on our laurels.

Will you be a full-time mayor and why? I am already a full time mayor and I have to say that the commitment cannot be any less than that. I’ve done just over 99,000km in two and a half years. The majority of the time you are either in the vehicle, at meetings, or in the office.

What position do you think the district is in? Southland is doing very well, however we need to be ready for the ever increasing visitor numbers and focus on increasing our economy.

What are three issues facing the incoming council, and why? The Around the Mountains cycle trail, the Te Anau treated wastewater disposal project, and roading. The first are two projects under immense scrutiny, and our [Government] roading funding is declining. We have 5000km of roads and a rating base of just over 29,000 properties, and there is increased pressure on roading from tourism and primary industries.

Population is also an issue. In Winton, for example, there is just about the same population now as there was in the late 1970s but more houses. So while it looks good that we have new houses in these communities, the population side of it hasn’t changed.

We are the second largest local authority in New Zealand by geographical area and our population is widely spread. We’ve got water supplies in all our townships, we’ve got sewerage systems, we’ve got community halls and the like to look after. With a limited rating base it takes its toll.

What would be one thing you would like to have achieved by the end of your term, and why? I’m committed to sorting out the cycle trail and Te Anau issues – the two major problems I inherited. I refer to them as hand grenades with the pins out. There are also other projects I want to see finished on time and on budget such as the sewerage system at Curio Bay, investigations into alternative electricity supply systems on Stewart Island, and looking at what we can do to extend the visitor season at Milford.

Since putting his name forward as a Southland district mayoral candidate Steve Fagerlund, of Winton, has decided he is no seeking the role. He declined to participate in the mayoral profiles.

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