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Request for library funding

Library staffing numbers could be boosted in South Wairarapa’s three libraries if new funding is approved.

South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] has requested an increase in library staff in the upcoming enhanced annual plan, which will be part of deliberations by elected members next month.

At a recent SWDC meeting, councillors were presented with a report detailing “lessons learned” from the previous Annual Plan regarding levels of service at its three libraries.

Last July, library opening hours were abruptly cut following a SWDC decision not to approve funding of $165,000 for casual library staff in the annual plan.

Public feedback on the reduced hours was almost exclusively negative, including criticism citing Saturday closures, negative impacts on community wellbeing, and Featherston’s status as a ‘Booktown’.

An internal review was ordered, which was discussed last week by elected members.

SWDC partnerships and operations manager Stefan Corbett said the review highlighted that council staff needed to work on a “much better no-surprises basis with this table”.

“And we are certainly committed to doing that, and that is a strong feature of the new chief executive’s leadership and something we want to draw a line under again,” he said.

“There were some things that weren’t done as well as they could be through that Annual Plan process. We have examined those and acknowledged them again with you.

Another “lesson learned” from the review was that “more clarity would have been useful in the Annual Plan process around the impact of not receiving the $165,000 requested for casual staff”.

“The messaging to the public and elected members didn’t properly capture the fact that without the requested funding we would face branch closures that would equate to a meaningful reduction in level of service,” the report to councillors said.

“We will carry that experience forward into future consultation processes.”

The report said SWDC is currently maintaining a reduced level of service using unbudgeted expenses for casual staff, while approvals for two new permanent FTE are sought.

“If we can gain these approvals our staffing level will increase to 8.75 permanent FTE — plus the Library Service Manager — over the three SWDC libraries [Featherston, Greytown, and Martinborough],” the report said.

“That will reduce the amount of casual labour required.”

SWDC has a shared library service with Carterton District Council, but the shared roster system has been on hold while SWDC deals with reduced staffing.

Prior to the previous annual plan, the council had received central government funding to alleviate staffing pressures.

Public consultation on SWDC’s enhanced annual plan will close on May 5.

Hearings will be held on May 16 and 17, with deliberations scheduled for May 22.

This is when the final rates increase will be determined.

The council would then adopt the plan on June 26. -NZLDR

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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