THE Opotiki District Council is moving ahead with a full-scale redevelopment of the district library although fewer than two percent of the district’s population have officially endorsed the project.
At a meeting last Thursday, mayor John Forbes and five of the six sitting councillors voted in favour of the $4.1 million development, while councillor Barry Howe suggested the decision should be deferred for the incoming council to consider.
The $4.6 million redevelopment was one of three options identified in a public consultation last month, with the community asked to vote on whether to leave the library as it, undertake a partial upgrade or a full redevelopment. Of the 261 responses to the survey, 145 favoured the full redevelopment, which was also the council’s preferred option.
Based on the number of responses and population data from Statistics New Zealand, 3.09 percent of Opotiki district residents partook in the consultation, with 1.83 percent of residents selecting option three, the full-scale redevelopment, as their preferred option.
The new purpose-built centre, Te Tahuhu O Te Rangi Technology and Research Centre is expected to be constructed on the corner of King and Church streets by November 2020.
According to the report tabled by finance, systems and property group manager Michael Homan, the library redevelopment has been in the works for the last 10 years.
The report states the proposed redevelopment has appeared in every long-term plan since 2009, with multiple public consultations held over the years.
The total cost for the library redevelopment inclusive of planning, internal fitting and the building of the new site is estimated at $4.6 million.
With $800,000 already set aside for the project and expected grants valued at $700,000, a loan of $3,100,000 will be required for completion of a new centre.
The report states external funding for the project has been sought since its conception, however most of these pursuits have been unsuccessful so far.
The loan will require raising the council’s self-imposed debt limits, which currently are 10 percent of net interest/total income and 15 percent of net interest/rates income.
The redevelopment decision was not without controversy with Mr Howe strongly against, terming it “arrogant and ignorant” or the council to burden the new ratepayers and the new councillors with a rate increase straight away.
“I plead with my councillors that we delay the decision on the recommendation before us.”
Mr Howe outlined a series of reasons why he opposed sitting councillors making the decision, which centred on finances.
“The fact is, it’s not being externally funded,” he said.
“I’m not against a new library, I’m against it being funded by ratepayers.”
He argued that the public consultation process on the library redevelopment had been biased.
“Option three has always been referred to as the ‘preferred option’,” he said.
“When the document went out, option three was listed as the preferred option, shouldn’t it be unbiased?”
Councillor Arihia Tuoro said the “preferred option” status was decided by a process last year.
“There was a process that we went through to get to that,” she said.
“Are you arguing that the process isn’t correct?”
Mr Howe said the options should be listed as option one, option two and option three, without a “preferred option” listed.
“Every single process we’ve gone out with has a preferred option. Sometimes we haven’t even wanted to put a preferred option, but audit has required us to,” said chief executive Aileen Lawrie.
“It’s an absolutely standard process.”
Mr Forbes encouraged Mr Howe to instead ask questions around the recommendation for discussion, as opposed to only stating his reasons for being against it.
“You need to ask these as questions, so there can be some discussion,” Mr Forbes said.
Mr Forbes said he had called councillor Ken Young – who is currently abroad – to ask his thoughts on the project.
“Ken said if he was here today, he would be supporting the library going up.”
Mr Forbes said the library would act as a key attraction for Opotiki, as well as a facility for residents.
“People are looking at Opotiki and wondering ‘do I want to live there, or do I want to live in Ohope and have access to their facilities and those of the neighbouring town?’,” said Mr Forbes.
Mr Forbes said Whakatane, Rotorua and Gisborne had conducted significant library upgrades over past years, making them a more attractive destination.
“If we want to create an environment that people want to come and live in and commit to, and things like this are key pieces of kit,” he said.
“This is a 50-year piece of kit for Opotiki, and it’s a really, really important piece.”
Following the presentation and surrounding discussion, which took nearly an hour, John Forbes moved the recommendation be accepted with deputy mayor Lyn Riesterer seconding.
All councillors voted in favour of the recommendation except for councillor Barry Howe.
Mr Howe moved an amendment that the recommendation be deferred to the next ordinary council meeting, however this failed to gain a seconder.