Number's almost up for Aratoi tally rows

By Don Farmer

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PRECISION: The board is eager for an accurate count of visitors to Aratoi, Frazer Mailman says.
PRECISION: The board is eager for an accurate count of visitors to Aratoi, Frazer Mailman says.

Disputes over Aratoi visitor numbers that have dragged on for years are likely to be laid to rest at the end of June when the results of a full year's manual count are made public.

Aratoi board chairman Frazer Mailman said yesterday the board was eager to get a full-year count and for it to be as accurate as possible.

That, he said, would give Aratoi a base to work on so that visitors to the art and history museum could be measured year on year.

Angst over visitor numbers has arisen since Aratoi opened, with claims they have been highly inflated.

Earlier this year results of a manual count carried out over four-and-a-half months last year by then-interim manager Robin Dunlop revealed visitors to Aratoi were likely to be far fewer than had been claimed.

When extrapolated over a full year they showed Aratoi could expect 25,350 a visitors - or 70 a day - and not about three times as many as had been previously claimed.

Mr Mailman said a further manual count had started last July and would extend to the end of June this year.

A problem for Aratoi was that the electronic counter measured people coming into the building who visited not only the museum but also a cafe, toilets and the i-SITE.

He said in any event the success of Aratoi could not be measured just on how many people came through the door.

"Aratoi is an excellent venue that provides art, history and culture to the wider Wairarapa community.

"Every community needs a balance in its make-up to be a healthy community and that involves art, sports, music and what Aratoi has to offer," Mr Mailman said.

He said the board was "acutely aware" something had to be done over the accuracy of visitor numbers that had been disputed for longer than 16 years.

At a meeting of the Masterton District Council's audit committee this week Councillor Brent Goodwin - who has often criticised Aratoi's visitor number claims - questioned the wages bill. He said on the basis of 3.5 fulltime equivalent staff it appeared Aratoi staff were "on average" each receiving $90,000 a year.

"That seems very high especially when you look at the salary structure of museums in other towns like Oamaru where it is between $50,000 and $60,000 a year," he said.

Mr Mailman said Aratoi employed the equivalent of five fulltime staff, not 3.5.

That included the exhibitions manager and collections manager, who were both fulltime; the director, who worked 30 hours a week; and other part-time staff, including an accountant.

He said the budget for wages was $248,000 a year which "on average" worked out to about $48,000 to $49,000.

"In comparison to other museums it appears we are not very highly staffed.

"I think full credit should be given to Aratoi staff for the number, and quality of the exhibitions and for the collection."

- WAIRARAPA TIMES-AGE

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