MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire councillors were on Monday poised to give themselves the right to spend an extra $14,000 over their four-year terms, bringing the total to $30,000.
The success of the latest bid to define their entitlements could depend on one councillor agreeing to being paid travelling expenses of 76 cents a kilometre.
A move to set new four-year spending limits – $16,000 for conferences and seminars; $10,000 education and training; and $1000 a year entertainment – missed out on being adopted on Monday 22 August by one vote.
If voting patterns stayed the same on Monday this week, Cr Andrew Dixon would have held the deciding vote.
Cr Dixon has previously told The News that he disagreed with the draft policy which suggested councillors receive 67 cents a kilometre.
He said he had a six-cylinder car and was able to claim $1.07 a kilometre.
In the lead up to this week’s meeting other councillors seemed certain Cr Dixon would accept the compromise 76 cents, which is part of the package aimed at increasing councillor entitlements to $30,000.
Councillors also receive a $29,000 a year stipend.
The mayor gets a $92,000 a year stipend and under the new package is also allowed to spend an extra $3500 on conferences and seminars and $2000 a year on entertainment.
Under the new expenditure policy councillors cannot claim for alcohol and are subject to more definite conditions for child care payments.
The new policy states that child care payments cannot be made to someone who “normally or regularly” lives with a councillor.
Child care rates are put at $31 an hour for day/evening weekday care; $42 an hour on weekends; and $53 an hour on public holidays.
The long road to setting limits and adopting a new expenses policy included a council resolution in April for Cr Antonella Celi to repay about $9000 of the $28,520 paid by the shire for her attendance on conferences and seminars. This decision was reversed in May.
This followed legal advice was received which cast doubts on the $16,000-a-term spending limit for each councillor and that repayment of any perceived overspending could not be forced.
Cr David Gibb said he was opposed to councillors being able to use their expense allowances to buy alcohol or pay for overseas flights.
However, while accepting that overseas trips would be allowed he would not back the new expenditure policy if alcohol purchases were given the all clear.
“I don’t believe that alcohol should be charged to ratepayers at any time,” he said. When it came to overseas trips and “luxury hotels”, which he had “consistently voted against”, he would now “let that one pass; I can see several points of view”.
The policy also states that councillors must travel in economy class if flying.
Cr Gibb said being a councillor was “the equivalent of being a company director” and believed it appropriate pay for councillors to undertake professional courses “with an exam at the end”. The shire has paid for Cr Gibb to do a company director’s course.
Cr Gibb said the new spending limits “are ceilings, not targets – I’d be amazed if anyone got there”.
Cr Hugh Fraser on Thursday branded the new expenses policy as “such a silly exercise”.
“We need to revise all policies within six months of the election of the new council,” he said.
“This new policy is costing an extra $110,000.”
The motion to adopt the revised expenditure policy was lost on the casting vote of the mayor, Cr Graham Pittock, supported by Crs Fraser, Dixon, Tim Rodgers and Tim Wood. For the motion were Crs Celi, Anne Shaw, Bev Colomb and David Garnock.