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Residents throw the book at council

The South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] mayor has made a personal statement following controversial cuts in the district’s library hours – including in Featherston, New Zealand’s official ‘Booktown’.

The move comes as ratepayers face an almost 20 per cent rates increase this year.

SWDC mayor Martin Connelly weighed in on the issue after what a council statement described as “robust” debate on social media following reductions to the opening hours of libraries in Featherston, Greytown, and Martinborough.

The council announced the reduced library hours last week but has since brought forward public consultation on the issue, with a public meeting scheduled to be held on the issue in Featherston this evening.

There were hundreds of critical comments on social media from people who were “upset and disappointed” about the “gutting” decision to restrict hours.

Connelly described the reductions as “not acceptable” to either himself or council members.

“Earlier this week, library users were surprised to learn that their libraries were about to close for several days each week. Compared to past opening hours, the Featherston Library would be open eight fewer days a month, while Greytown and Martinborough would be open 10 fewer days a month,” he said.

“This is not acceptable to me or to other councillors.

Featherston library opening hours reduced.

“We recently consulted you, the residents and the ratepayers, about whether to save $166,000 on library costs to reduce the rate increases we were confronted with. Our consultation document was clear that if we spent the extra $166,000, it would be to employ casual staff ‘to cover leave’, and by that, we meant when permanent staff had sick leave or other forms of leave that meant they could not be at work.

“Accordingly, I will be asking the interim chief executive, next week, to make sure that library hours are aligned to the community’s needs and the spirit of our consultation. Any changes cannot happen for a few weeks, due to staff schedules being in place. But after that, I expect library hours to return to meet the needs of the community, bearing in mind that they may close from time to time if staff must take leave.”

Last week SWDC advertised the cuts to opening hours at its three libraries effective from July 1, with Featherston’s closed on Wednesdays and Saturdays, Martinborough’s on Tuesday, Friday, and every second Saturday, and Greytown’s on Monday, Thursday, and every second Saturday.

According to SWDC interim chief executive Paul Gardner, the decision was made because “a change in the funding model for the libraries in the 2023-24 Annual Plan budget has meant that there are insufficient staffing numbers to maintain the same service level as previously”.

“We are very mindful that the library service is an important part of our community, and we are doing the best we can to keep all our libraries open within current constraints,” Gardner said.

After public consultation on the annual plan, SWDC had excluded $165,000 from this year’s budget for library staff.

A council announcement at the time reported the decision as follows:

“Not [to] fund a casual pool of library staff to provide backfill as needed so that libraries may remain open six days a week. This has saved $165,000, however, libraries will be closed at least one day a week,” it said. – NZLDR

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

1 COMMENT

  1. SWDC are a disgrace, sack the lot of them and start again.
    If I acted this incompetent in my job I would need sacked.

Comments are closed.

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