Fri. Nov 18th, 2022

Wellington City councillors have proposed slashing the city’s library collection purchases by 40 per cent over the next two years as it looks to free up room in a bulging 10-year budget.
The move was one of 11 last-minute proposed budget changes put forward by mayor Andy Foster at a shambolic council meeting on Thursday, as he made a last-ditch effort to balance the books in the face of mounting financial pressures.
The change would result in the council’s budget for library resource purchases being cut by $1 million a year over the next two financial years, beginning from July.
The late changes left councillors scrambling to make sense of the revised budget, with councillor Jenny Condie calling the proceedings a shambles.
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I think, like all of you, I did feel pretty overwhelmed with the amount of amendments that we had coming in today, she told councillors.
Wellington City councillors unanimously voted to fix and upgrade the city’s quake-prone central library, despite public support for a new building.
Foster emailed councillors on Tuesday night with vague explanations of the planned changes, she said.
The fact we only received the updated mayors proposal in bullet point form, one working day before the meeting, with no actual written explanation about what any of the bullet points meant, made it incredibly difficult for all of us, and I think contributed to the shambles this morning.
Councillor Sean Rush described Foster’s Tuesday email as almost incomprehensible, and called for the deliberations, which ended up lasting seven hours, to be delayed.
I just dont know how any of this [budget] fits together any more, he said.
Councillors eventually voted 8-7 to include the library purchase reduction in its proposed draft long-term plan, which will be finalised in March and go out for public feedback later in the year.
City councillor Jenny Condie says Thursdays meeting to discuss proposals for the councils long-term plan was a shambles. (File photo)
They also voted 9-6 to consider selling part of its ownership of the central library building to private investors for use as office space.
The library has been closed since March 2019 after it was declared an earthquake risk, with councillors agreeing in October to support a $179m upgrade beginning in April.
Foster proposed several other late changes on Thursday, including scrapping $6.5m from the budget for a planned Frank Kitts Park redevelopment.
Councillor Rebecca Matthews told Stuff during a break in the meeting the chaotic proceedings were the result of a lack of leadership.
The mayor said it’s the first long-term plan he’s led, but he hasn’t led this one either, Matthews said. The issue for Wellington is not a dysfunctional council, its ineffective leadership.
The $30m Frank Kitts Park redevelopment includes a Chinese Garden, which will be funded by the Chinese community.
When asked by councillor Jill Day whether the Chinese community was aware of the proposal to pull funding for the park upgrade, Foster said: Im not sure whether they know or dont know. They will now.
Foster hit back at the criticism levelled at him, saying his transformational budget was the most challenging the council had faced, and included record investments in capital spending and cycleways.
Mayor Andy Foster says some councillors appeared to be living in parallel universes, where money grows on trees. (File photo)
He said there were no plans to privatise the library, as some councillors had suggested. Rather, private investors would potentially own office space separate to the library.
You can create a controversy about that if you want, but you will be creating controversy because it’s political, not because it’s good governance.
He said some councillors saw subterfuge in the things being proposed, while others felt like there were people in parallel universes, where money grows on trees.
He defended the late amendments, saying he and council staff were working in real time, with continuing evolving forecasts.
Im sorry that we had to do it the way that we did … but that was the way we had to do it.
Foster also offered a warning to councillors that they had tried to fit too much into the budget, most notably a successful motion from Laurie Foon to include an extra $45m for cycleways from years four to 10 of the plan.
You are starting to stretch into the area which is going to become irresponsible, and I think youre going to have to watch very carefully the debates we have around the operating expenditure side.
There are things you might want to do, but you might have already spent the money.
Just some amendments passed by other councillors included an extra $3.8m for climate change initiatives, $2m in 2024-25 for a resource recovery park, and rates postponement options for low and fixed-income ratepayers.
How they voted:
Reducing library collections budget:
For: Andy Foster, Diane Calvert, Jenny Condie, Sarah Free, Sean Rush, Malcolm Sparrow, Simon Woolf, Nicola Young. Against: Jill Day, Fleur Fitzsimons, Laurie Foon, Rebecca Matthews, Teri ONeill, Iona Pannett, Tamatha Paul.
Lease library building land:
For: Andy Foster, Diane Calvert, Jenny Condie, Laurie Foon, Sarah Free, Sean Rush, Malcolm Sparrow, Simon Woolf, Nicola Young. Against: Jill Day, Fleur Fitzsimons, Rebecca Matthews, Teri ONeill, Iona Pannett, Tamatha Paul.