New figures confirm overspending


SHIRE staff have given councillors revised details of their spending on seminars and conferences during the current council term that began in late 2012, as directed at a meeting last month.

The new information will not be made public until about 24 March, after councillors have met and discussed the figures.

The News believes the revised information will require at least one councillor to repay a substantial sum above the $4000 a year each councillor can spend over their four-year term.

The amount of the overspend is not known. Two councillors, David Gibb and Antonella Celi, were attributed with overspending in a shire briefing note given to councillors in January.

Those figures were strongly criticised by councillors as being inaccurate at a council meeting held on 22 February.

However, one obvious inaccuracy – assuming the January shire figures are remotely accurate – was spending attributed to Red Hill ward councillor Tim Wood, elected to council after the resignation of Frank Martin in mid-2014.

The shire document recorded more than $8000 against Cr Wood’s name over 2012-13 and 2013-14, despite his not joining council until late August 2014.

Then councillor Martin was absent from council duties for nearly six months, from 9 December 2013 to 19 May 2014, then resigned days later.

Councillors discussed the allowance spending after a report in the News (“Council nod to lift expenses”, 9/2/2016), which was based on the shire’s January figures.

They voted to direct staff to produce the new figures detailing each councillor’s spending on seminars and conferences by last Thursday, 10 March.

Councillors sought the amount of each payment; the date each was paid; to whom it was paid; and the goods or services provided.

The motion was approved 7-0 with three abstentions.

A subsequent motion expanded the original requirement to cover all councillor spending over every area of allowances. This presumably was provided last Thursday and will be released at the same time as the seminars and conferences figures.

Councillors then voted to require any councillor found to have overspent their seminars and conferences allowance to repay the money within six months.

The seeming softness of shire accounting for at least the seminars and conferences allowance sits strangely with the normal rigid precision of shire accounts, which reconcile million-dollar projects down to the last cent.

How payments to councillors of any allowance could transgress prescribed limits by thousands of dollars does not sit squarely with this standard. And how any councillor could fail to control their spending to this extent is another puzzle. Ultimately, councillors have responsibility to watch their spending.

Application for amounts above $2000 for seminars and conferences must come to council meetings for approval. The applicant councillor leaves the chamber while the item is discussed. The shire staff report on the matter states that the sum sought does not take the councillor over his or her allowance limit.

Sums under $2000 do not need such public approval.

A prudent financial housekeeper, either councillor or shire officer, would surely record such spending and then keep a running tally, especially as the spending limit approaches.

But word is that councillor allowances have not been so strictly administered, with cash taken from a pool rather than from individual fund allocations. This is said to have been the practice in the time of the previous administration.

If this is so, one wonders how such a practice could have eluded the piercing gaze of the shire auditors.

First published in the Mornington News – 15 March 2016


Comments are closed.