Police forget to pay $5000 in rent

By Cullen Smith

Upper Riccarton War Memorial Library chairman Arthur Woods. Photo / Geoff Sloan
Upper Riccarton War Memorial Library chairman Arthur Woods. Photo / Geoff Sloan

Police have admitted "dropping the ball" by failing to pay more than $5000 in rent to a tiny Christchurch community group run by volunteers and war veterans.

The Upper Riccarton War Memorial Library let community officers use its Riccarton Rd facilities as a base for 19 months after the February 2011 earthquake destroyed the local community volunteer base.

Library chairman Arthur Woods said police asked to use the library for its volunteers and community constables and a senior police officer offered to pay a donation of $200 a month plus an extra $50 to cover power in a "gentlemen's agreement".

Mr Woods calculated that the police owed the library $5250 covering the period from April 2011 to December 2012 when the police volunteers moved out.

But he said despite ongoing promises, no payment has ever been received.

A letter and invoices sent to Canterbury police on November 21 went unanswered until yesterday when The Star made inquiries.

Mr Woods said it was "quite rude" of the police not to respond to any requests for payment.

"We haven't had a cent. It's a real pain," Mr Woods said.

Christchurch community policing commander Superintendent Andy McGregor yesterday apologised to the library.

"I have to acknowledge that we have dropped the ball on this matter," he said.

"We are extremely grateful for the support that the library has given our community policing staff in providing this space - it was a very generous gesture," Superintendent McGregor said.

"We absolutely intend to meet our obligations, and we regret that this delay has gone on so long."

He said it appeared the "appropriate payment system" wasn't set up when the arrangement was made in the immediate post-earthquake period.

Superintendent McGregor also admitted approaches from the library for payment hadn't been followed up "in a timely manner" and he had directed staff to "urgently address this".

"I apologise to the library for the unacceptable delay in settling the account, and give an assurance that we will resolve this as soon as possible."

Mr Woods said the belated police response was "bloody fantastic".

"It should never have happened but we are grateful the police have now acknowledged our situation."

Mr Woods said he contacted The Star after becoming incensed when he read recently of the police paying compensation after leaking details of a paedophile's identity.

"I thought if they can pay $15,000 in compensation, they can afford to pay us," he said.

The money would provide a welcome boost to the library's meagre funding.

"Insurance has doubled, power prices are going up all the time and we are responsible for the total maintenance of the building," Mr Woods said.

Opened in 1919 as a memorial to those who died in the Great War of 1914-18, the library hosts dawn Anzac Day services and November 11 Armistice Day services every year and is open three days a week. It is run by a committee of 16 volunteers.

- CHRISTCHURCH STAR

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