Council begins budget cuts

Proposed Auckland Council cuts that will affect libraries, parks and environmental services (including the Enviroschools programme) are causing disquiet among local board members and Councillors.

A restructuring process aimed at cutting costs and increasing efficiency, which began just prior to the recent election, is likely to affect staff at libraries and parks and the services that they provide.

The first changes were specified in a memo issued to local boards last month by Community services director Ian Maxwell and Libraries and information general manager Mirla Edmundson. The memo provides a list of 31 Auckland libraries that will, for the first time, close between Christmas and New Year.

Hibiscus & Bays Local Board member Julia Parfitt says she was pleased to see that neither Orewa nor Whangaparaoa Library is on that list. However, she says the local board had to fight to have a say about further potential cuts to staff and services, despite the fact that libraries and parks come under local board management and are on their balance sheet.

She says libraries are valued in the community and the local board would not want to see any reduction in service. The same applies to parks staff who deal with the public and volunteers.

She says proposed cuts to the EnviroSchools budget is also a concern, as it is popular with schools and the community. “Any slack in that budget might have to be picked up by the local board,” Mrs Parfitt says.

Cr Wayne Walker says that councillors, as well as local boards and the public, are being kept in the dark about the changes, which fall to the chief executive and operational arm of Council.

He says the changes are significant in terms of the impact on the council organisation and delivery of local services.

“At a recent gathering of councillors and local boards the mayor outlined his vision, changes that were occurring within the organisation and the agenda that they’re running to,” Cr Walker says. “One of the catch cries is ‘doing more with less’. That’s part of what is happening with libraries and parks. The mayor expects a leaner organisation, that’s understood. But I don’t think we should play around too much with front line services that provide the public with incredibly high levels of satisfaction. It needs to be thought through much more carefully.”

He says that it doesn’t make sense to cut staff in parks and libraries who support and work with volunteers.

“When it comes to libraries in legacy Rodney, large numbers of volunteers are already gone because Auckland Council’s policy was more about paid staff,” Cr Walker says. “This makes things a lot worse when you have cuts like the ones proposed. Why should volunteers continue to prop something up if they’re just being used to cut costs? We could be in a real fix.”