COUNCILLOR EXPENSES DELAYED AGAIN

The proposed Councillor Expenditure Policy will set a record next Monday, 5 September, when it is brought to a council meeting for the third successive week.

Its first appearance was on 22 August, when Cr Andrew “Billy” Dixon complained that the Australian Tax Office’s 66 cents a kilometre vehicle allowance was inadequate. His vote against the policy was instrumental in its defeat. (See separate story ̔Dixon’s No vote sinks expenses policy’.)

To recap briefly: after the rejection Cr David Gibb applied a futile kiss of life in an effort to amend the policy to give Cr Dixon the 76 cents a kilometre he wanted and thus swing his vote.

Then, in an apparent panic at the policy’s rejection, a group of councillors organised the calling of a a special meeting for 29 August. This was done without reference to the mayor, Cr Graham Pittock, who had used his casting vote to defeat the policy on 22 August and would usually have signed the notice of the special meeting.

The Local Government Act also permits “at least three councillors” to call a special meeting. Councillors Gibb, Anne Shaw and David Garnock signed the notice. Apparently, however, they did not (because they could not) give the seven days’ notice required for the meeting.

At its second appearance on 29 August the matter was doubly contentious – at a meeting achieved in a discourtesy to Cr Pittock by the three councillors who authorised it without reference to the mayor.

That meeting was preceded by some backroom fireworks, Bandicoot hears. In any event the draft policy was briefly mentioned but not discussed, except an announcement it had been further delayed by a week to 5 September.

The policy document was available at the meeting. Bandicoot noted that the proposed Gibb amendment had been made – would you credit it? – with the vehicle allowance rising from 66 to 76 cents a kilometre, presumably to the satisfaction of Cr Dixon.

Bandicoot has calculated that this amendment will cost ratepayers over $11,000 a year for the next four years, based on an average 10,000 kilometres a year for each of the 11 councillors. He is confident that some councillors, acutely aware of the poverty endured by some ratepayers, will forgo the extra 10 cents per kilometre. 

How many kilometres equal the price of a litre of fuel? Two? Perhaps less.

Ten cents here and there is a piddling sum for most people. But for our poor, in an ever-poorer world, financially and ethically, it is the thin silver coin that some wouldn’t stoop to pick up that keeps their nostrils above the rising tide.

That the 29 August special meeting was rushed is evidenced by the fact that it appears botched. The public notice of meeting refers to the “Matter” – singular – to be discussed. (Such meetings are usually called to deal with one urgent item.) Then follow five items, the last of which is the “Draft Councillor Expenditure Policy”. In Bandicoot’s opinion none of the items justified a special meeting.

By contrast the public notice released for the 5 September meeting states properly: “Matter to be discussed: Draft Councillor Expenditure Policy.”

The policy itself is much as was, bar the vehicle allowance. But one other changed expenses item – child care – warrants a mention.

Gone is the 12 August 2013 stipulation that “Child care costs are not eligible for reimbursement if claimed for child caring by a person who is immediate family (eg. Partner, mother/father, sister/brother, grandmother/grandfather or sister in law/brother in law) …”

This is replaced by: “Child care costs are not eligible for reimbursement if paid to a person who normally or regularly lives with the Councillor, except where a live-in (professional) helper, such as a nanny, is required to work extra time at extra expense because of the Councillor’s duties.”

This, to Bandicoot’s eye, opens the way for family members registered as child care providers, but not resident at the councillor’s house, to receive payment. If granny lives next door or up the street she can babysit and be paid. Or live in as a nanny, perhaps?

That is, unless an extraordinary paragraph can be interpreted to throw light on the issue. Here is the paragraph:

Reimbursement of child care costs will be available for immediate family only, i.e. where the Councillor or domestic partner is the primary care giver.” Make of that what you will: send your suggestions and include a stamped self-addressed envelope to …” Etcetera.

Another change is the definition of “child”. Formerly “defined as up to, but not including 17 years of age”, a child is now defined as “up to the age of 16”. And not a day more, Bandicoot presumes. Doesn’t this lop a full year off the allowance?

Finally, “Christmas/Festive Season” cards.

The policy reads: “Councillors will be given the opportunity of sending corporate Christmas/Festive Season cards. These shall be available in paper and electronic format. Interested Councillors are encouraged to use electronic format.

For those Councillors who choose a paper based format, the cost of production and postage will be published as part of that Councillor’s monthly expense report.”

This is a timely reminder to get your Chrissie/Festive list up to date – not to mention your New Year list – and start saving your 10-cent coins to pay the postage. How many cards do you send? How many would a councillor send? That depends on how many friends you have, and a councillor has, and would choose to contact when someone else is paying the bill.

Ward letterboxes could well bulge this festive season.