Size matters – for books but not votes

Aug 9th, 2018 | By | Category: Hot Topics, Latest News

Size matters, according to Waikato District Council chief executive Gavin Ion.

One of the reasons for controversially ending the council’s contract paying for district residents’ access to the Hamilton city libraries “is that it only benefits a small percentage of our residents,” he said in a statement today.

What percentage is too small to warrant the expense of allowing Waikato residents who are miles from a district library the ability to use one on their doorstep? He doesn’t say.

But he does give an actual figure – 3530.

Three thousand, five hundred and thirty Waikato district residents have actively used Hamilton city libraries in the last 12 months. They are, said Ion, from 2390 households.

Neither figure seems particularly small. Any ward candidate in the last election would surely have been delighted to receive 2390 votes let alone 3530. None did.

No ward councillor now sitting around the council table making decisions about how millions of dollars of rates are spent and what services residents can and can’t have polled anywhere near 3530 votes. Or even 2390. In their dreams.

The closest was Jacqui Church in the Tuakau ward. She got 1695 votes. Tamahere ward councillor Aksel Bech got 817.

Only the hotly contested mayoralty race attracted a higher number of votes than district users of the Hamilton library and even then only one candidate got more than 3530 votes – the Mayor Allan Sanson (5383 votes).

The figures suggest that it’s acceptable for fewer people to elect a council than are entitled to expect a service to be maintained by that council. Acceptable in the council’s eyes anyway.

In other words, it’s ok for a mere 817 people to put Cr Bech in a council seat but not ok for 3530 people to borrow books at their nearest library when the council doesn’t offer one remotely nearby.

But the council has been paying $300,000 annually for the handy access to the Hamilton library for those 3530 people. Is that justified? Possibly not. At $80 an annual individual membership it would seem to be an overpayment of $17,600.

But on a household basis it’s probably good value for money. There are 2390 Waikato households accessing the Hamilton library, according to the WDC. The Hamilton library charges $180 a year for group or family membership so on that basis the council should be up for $430,200 or $130,200 more than it is currently paying.

But how much and how often are Waikato people actually using the Hamilton library? What is value for money?

Gavin Ion: “We are unsure of the extent of that use but it’s likely to vary between one-off customers and frequent users.”

Too right it’s likely to vary but as every library user knows the library database keeps accurate track of how many books are borrowed and when. Log in to the database and users can find exactly what they read, which month and year, to give their lifetime total. I’ve borrowed 79 books in the last three years. (Slack, I know, but in my defense I also buy books, borrow from friends and this year, because I was planning travel, succumbed to a Kindle. I will still borrow library books – if I can – because I like reading paper books. And I like libraries.)

“We need to be responsible with ratepayer money and we believe it’s important to get the best bang for your buck,” said Ion.

Well sure you do. That’s our money you’re talking about. But the council need not be unsure whether it’s getting the best book bank for its buck.

Note to council: Get the data from the library. Problem solved.

Or as one helpful local wrote in a comment on the Forum’s earlier story on social media: “they could make it more targeted to the people in the affected areas.

“So instead of paying HCC for the service, Waikato District Council gives residents in areas surrounding Hamilton (with no local library) the opportunity for a family membership at HCC each year. Just go in with rates bill / proof of residence. Not everyone will use the library, so it will be based on actual users, not just a lump sum agreement. HCC can invoice WDC based on the number of WDC residents who become or remain library users.”

Ion said the council plans, over the next year, to work “with our communities to find out what services they want and require and work hard to deliver this within the budgets available.”

Well, council, I’m pretty sure if you’ve been monitoring the comments on this story and in social media in the last few days (and you should have been) you’ll know what people want. Access to their closest library. Oh, and they told you that in last year’s consultation. More to come on that.

Then there’s shared services.

Ion: “We’re also exploring options to collaborate with all other councils in the Waikato region (including Hamilton City).”

Can’t be too hard to organise. Residents of Porirua, Kapiti, Wellington and Hutt Valley councils all use each others’ libraries at no cost, including interloans.

Imagine that for Waikato residents? One library card to rule them all. A book to be borrowed whither they wander.

But couldn’t you have organised that before your hamfisted handling of this issue precipitated such woe, unhappiness and anger among otherwise mild mannered readers?

Three thousand, five hundred and thirty people are not insignificant. Neither are 2390 households. They represent around 5% of the district’s population.

Some small towns would be happy to have that number of people. Like Te Kauwhata which has a population of around 1500. And has a library.

At least 5000 people responded to the consultation over the library. 47.4% or 2370 respondents – damn near equivalent to every one of the 2390 Hamilton library-going households – wanted the status quo. For the council to continue negotiating agreements so that they could access libraries in their neighbouring districts.

Why was that strong message ignored?

And on the basis of what the council considers small and, obviously insignificant, at what low percentage of voter turnout at the next election will councillors consider themselves to have an insufficient mandate to take their seats?

More on this topic: Hamilton library access to end


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5 Comments to “Size matters – for books but not votes”

  1. Rob Hammington says:

    What appalling arrogance for WDC to ignore us when we tell them very clearly that we want continued access to HCC libraries. As Tamahere residents, we are significant contributors to the massive pool of rates that are used almost everywhere except in our own area. No sewerage, no footpaths, no street lighting and only useless trickle feed water, that we don’t use. Oh, plus the insulting need to pay per bag for rubbish collection. So, keeping the library availability going is important, get it sorted WDC and reverse the decision. As for you Aksel, what was your contribution to this debacle?

  2. Kitty Burton says:

    According to Council’s annual report summary for 2017 we have a population of 71,200 of whom 19,984 are library members – i.e. 28%. The number of people directly affected by the access to HCC libraries is about 12,000 of whom 3530 are members – 29% .

    • Catherine says:

      Great to see those figures – I had asked my own councillor for them but not received them. I live in the Raglan Ward but only use the Hamilton libraries. I agree that the inequity is greatest for the people in the wards next to Hamilton, but this petty decision is also affecting other WDC residents who regularly use the libraries in Hamilton.

  3. Arnold says:

    For what it’s worth Aksel is only one vote.
    The council driven by mr ion make the decisions.look at the attrition rates and no wonder New faces appear and emails go unanswered for 6 months.
    I would expect to be refunded when the “service “ ends. You can also bet they won’t while they “explore” other “options”. Really.
    All the effort has gone north of Hamilton and I think a better option would be to join up with Waipa. For many years tamahere received very little in return for our rates.
    Furthermore I believe an endowment fund be set up for the expected annual $300 k.
    There would be no reason for this NOT to happen if no refunds are offered.
    This no doubt is in the LTTP as a budget item and I would look forward to support from Aksel.

  4. Bob says:

    Reverse this decision immediately! Aksel I can guarantee you will not be re-elected after blatantly ignoring the people in your area. So bitterly disappointed and angry.

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