Bange on the Waihi Borough Council 1960 – 1988

I have earlier told about "the state" of the house in Waihi we bought, and I should now briefly describe "the state" (existing) Borough services were in:

Roads: Apart from the State Highways (No.2 and 25), through the town (Parry Palm and Seddon Avenue and Kenny Street East of Rosemont Rd) – Walmsley Road, there was not a metre of old sealed roads without pot hole on pot hole, including the main shopping street, Seddon Street.

Kerb and Channelling: High kerbs and deep channels (concrete) in poor condition in the central area of town mainly.

Footpaths: Some sealed footpaths in the central area of town, remnants of old sealed footpaths mainly overgrown in various places.

Road verges: Heavily overgrown, in tall grass and weeds, occasionally cut by tractor bar mowers.

Street lighting: 100 watt bulbs in open shades on most road intersections only.

Storm water drainage: Some remnants of originally installed glazed earthenware pipes (early 1900's) remaining. Collapsed square wooden box culverts replaced by concrete pipes bedded on the timber floor of the old box, thus reducing the carrying capacity dramatically (by some 40%).

Bridges: Generally in poor condition and/or "one way" structures. Sound ones, generally inadequate "waterways" (flood discharge capacity).

Waste disposal: Human wastes by night soil collection disposed of on "Borough farm" (cut and cover trenches), several km's out of town. Garden and general household wastes – no collection. To be buried on site. Wide spread practice; thrown out on road reserve fronting house.

Water supply: Source, two hillside catchments close to town. The Walmsley intake, small dam and spillway constructed by Waihi G.M. Co in early 1900's [no, by the Waihi Borough in 1904 - E], limited storage capacity and Waitete intake, run of stream, through small weirs. Trunk mains to town, from Walmsley, twelve inch diameter rivetted steel pipes, in extremely poor condition.

From Waitete six inch diameter fibrolite pipes. This latter supply was instigated by Councillor Owen Margan, only a few years before I came to Waihi, to somewhat alleviate the water shortages experienced each summer by the town. Some further comments on this later.

Water reticulation: Substantially the original, cast iron – lead – jointed network, for pipe diameters from four inches (100mm), up and galvanised iron pipes for smaller diameters and service connections. All of these pipes suffered from sever "tubercular growth", restricting their original carrying capacity and causing frequent blockages in service connections.

Council had started on a replacement programme of the C.I. mains by fibrolite pipes. However in doing so, reticulation major valving had practically been eliminated, to save costs. As A consequence in the event of a reticulation failure and repair, water shut downs often had to extend over large areas, affecting many consumers.

New service connections were made in copper piping and replacement of old galvanised pipe services by copper piping was in progress.

The water supply was untreated, "run of stream" raw water.

Abattoir: A small Abattoir, serving local butchers and private slaughter, was operated by the Council south of Parry Palm Avenue near the Waitete stream. (Now the land is occupied by Industries and the Refuse Transfer Station). All wastes discharged into the adjoining paddock.

Cemetery: Some two km out of town. Old parts heavily overgrown. Newer "semi-lawn" part mown. Old large macrocarpa trees surrounded and part shaded the whole cemetery, with rank weeds and blackberry growth in between.

You can see from the above, that there was no fear for a shortage of work for me to bring Waihi up to scratch. Two further factors aggravated the "problem" as to how to go about it.

Firstly; limited finance. Because of the low property values after the mine closing, rating revenue was limited, even with rates set at 100% of the legal maximum permitted. Council had to fight an uphill battle to attain rating revenue to this level as "gold revenue" had provided the bulk , if not all, of the Borough's finances for many years. As this source gradually dwindled and eventually disappeared, rates revenue became the only annual source of finance available.

Secondly; For it's size the Borough was heavily "over roaded". This was brought about by the original subdivision layout of the town with minimum one acre lots for residential section. It virtually had double the length of roading per head of population as other similar sized (population wise) rural towns.

Consequently twice the length or amount of every municipal service, per head of population, had to be provided (or improved), and maintained, compared to these other small towns.

Furthermore, most small towns accommodated growth, through the subdivision of adjacent vacant (often rural) land, usually requiring new roading and services, which had to be provided at the developers cost.

No such costs contributions were available to Council in Waihi, as practically all subdivisions resulted from splitting up of the original "one acre lots", all on 'existing" roading and services.

As if all this was not enough for me to cope with, the Town Clerk (Ken Bargh, close to retirement age), in his 'wisdom' had terminated the arrangements with the County Council, for the part time provision of various services, thereby "saving" some money, and had loaded those responsibilities on to me, amongst these were building and general bylaw inspection.

What about old records? I found out that for years the filing 'system' had consisted of bundling all papers pertaining to a rating year, tied up by string and marked for that year. There was a room full of these bundles as well there were some old engineering plans. I sorted through the latter and retained a small amount of mainly old roading survey plans, which contained some historical information.

After the initial tidying up and 'finding my feet', I started up two basic filing system; one for individual properties based on street names and numbers, cross referenced to valuation numbers, and one system for subdivisions. No effort was made to recover predated records, but if any surfaced they were added to the systems.

I had a total 'works' staff available of around fourteen, this included one 'street cleaner' (who looked after the footpaths and gutters in the central shopping area and the men's public toilet on the corner of School Lane, next to Allan Dean's building) and one sexton (who dug the graves and mowed the semi lawn part of the cemetery), leaving an effective staff strength of twelve.

Although there was enough work for several times this number, Council's revenue as it was, left little enough money to supply even the small staff with materials for any improvement works.

The response, to any complaint received at the Borough office, in the past had been, to send a few workers around with a shovel. In nine out of ten cases they could not do much to alleviate the problem.

As well this use of 'human resources' did not do much for staff morale. To change this waste full practice I decided to follow up any complaint I received at the office in person. I did this at least for the whole of the first year, explaining to the property owner, that little if anything would be achieved if any of my workers were sent out to him or her, but given some time, permanent improvement work would be carried out. I found, that practically every rate payer, thus approached was agreeable and willing to be patient.

With a high proportion of elderly and retired people living in the town a major complaints category dealt with the condition of and the lack of footpaths. (When the mine closed in 1952, house prices in Waihi reached rock bottom and quite an influx of elderly people resulted; selling their Auckland property, buying in Waihi and having some capital to spare or invest).

Although both, "above ground" as well as "under ground" services required major and urgent attention, I realised that 'above ground' work had to be the first priority, being more in the public eye and likely to result in improved staff morale.

With the 'roading loan' already providing for some street sealing I therefore concentrated on compiling a footpaths programme. I also knew that this had to be 'soundly based' as to priorities, to avoid endless argument at Council meetings.

To this end I analysed the whole residential area of the Borough as to density of development, both "area wise" for each block (surrounded by formed roads), as well as 'frontage wise' along each street. This allowed me to list each street section in priority order. Overriding this, was a proposed network of 'feeder footpaths' from outer areas to the shopping and business, centre of town. As well I proposed an initial 'one sided' footpath development in each street. Apart from a listed schedule of each street block in priority order, I also prepared a colour coded plan covering the Borough.

Although footpaths were urgently required, 'foot traffic' density in all residential areas was likely to be light. I further proposed therefore that footpaths would be of concrete construction, more expensive to construct than sealed footpaths, but cheaper in the long run and outlasting sealed paths. A brief historic note here;

In it's prosperous early mining years, Waihi Borough had some 40 miles of sealed footpaths, when Hamilton had only five miles. The Borough operated its own gas works and tar from these was used. Very few of these paths remained, when I started work in 1960 and later when road verges were tidied up, remnants of old sealed footpaths were often unearthed. Council closed its gas works in 1951. It had the dubious reputation of having the largest unaccounted for gas losses in the country.

Back to the story:

Council was only to happy to approve my plan and thereafter progress was only dictated by annually available finance.

Rather than engaging contractors, I had our own staff doing the work, after design levels were established by me, allowing for eventual road widening, strengthening and final kerbing- Reusable angle iron formwork was later introduced and ready mix concrete was used, when a local plant was established in Waihi.

The staff had pride in their work, it lifted their morale, as often they received praise from nearby residents.