Tough calls begin

Mary Anne Gill

Waipā District Council’s decision last week to cut funding to the two i-Sites in Cambridge and Te Awamutu appears to be the first sign other tough financial decisions will follow.

But The News’ attempts to see a report on how and why the council made the i-Sites’ decision has struck a snag.

The council says it will use the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (the Act) – giving it 20 working days – to decide whether to release the report considered in a public excluded meeting and earlier in a confidential workshop.

Both Destination Cambridge and Destination Te Awamutu were told after the decision was made at the Service Delivery committee that their annual grants of $157,000 each to provide i-Site services had been slashed from July 1 next year.

Roger Gordon

Given local authorities around the country – including our neighbours in Hamilton who face a 25.5 per cent increase – have hinted at double-digit rate rises, this was an opportunity to send ratepayers a message to buckle their belts.

But all we have is confusion because a point of order by Cambridge councillor Roger Gordon trying to have the i-Site report pulled remains unanswered.

We got a “no comment” from Gordon under the councillors’ no surprises stance when we asked him to provide us with the “change” to the motion he and other staffers mentioned both during the meeting and in email traffic afterwards.

The council in an email titled ‘Error in reporting’ asked us where we “got the notion that the reason for public exclusion was changed.”

Philip Coles

“The clause under the act to protect the privacy of natural persons was in addition to the other three reasons for public exclusion outlined in the agenda,” a spokesperson said.

The council says it went into public excluded to protect the privacy of natural persons – a reference to i-Site staff who could potentially lose their jobs because of the decision.

But The News contends it was a funding decision – the council does not employ the staff – and debate should have taken place in public.

Ratepayers deserve to know that given the likelihood of more heartbreak to follow. Other community organisations could find themselves short of cash as the council looks for savings.

Mike Pettit

We asked whether three Cambridge councillors – Gordon himself, Philip Coles and Mike Pettit – voted against the motion to stop the i-Site funding.

The council will consider that request under the Act as well but again The News says the public has a right to know.

Both i-Sites say they will do all they can to attract other funding rather than close. In Destination Te Awamutu’s case, its chair Shane Walsh maintains the building it is in was gifted to the council by the community for use as an information centre.

We asked the council about that and were again told that request would be considered under the Act.

Susan O’Regan

Last month mayor Susan O’Regan told 150 invited guests at the Celebrating Waipā gathering there were some tough decisions coming for her and all elected members.

The council would be making some “really hard calls on behalf of our community.”

But if those hard calls are going to be made behind closed doors, it will be difficult for the community to understand the rationale behind them.

And councillors are going to need that as their phones start to run hot from groups who will find themselves in a similar situation to Destination Cambridge and Destination Te Awamutu.

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