I try to keep comments on this site as positive as possible however every now and then an issue arises which really needs to be addressed in the public forum.

First let me pre-empt my comments by advising that Councillors frequently debate the expenditure of ratepayer funds in accordance with the amounts allocated in the annual budget. Typically, many of these debates involve applications from community groups seeking grant funding of a few hundred or a few thousand dollars to support local events such as art shows, festivals, sporting events and the like. Unfortunately, many of these are rejected on the basis that there are insufficient funds in respective departmental budgets.

To the issue at hand… I‘ve recently been approached regarding the attendance of Councillors and staff at the Annual Conference of the Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) which was recently held in Brisbane over three days.

In the lead-up to this conference I became aware that 7 out of 11 Councillors were proposing to attend the event together with the CEO. Despite raising my concerns over the size and related costs of such an unprecedented contingent, a total of 8 delegates from Bundaberg Regional Council attended with the following costs incurred:-

Conference Registration (6 x $1,210.00) –              $  7,260.00
(2 x registration fees included with m’ship)

Welcome Function (8 x $50.00)               –              $     400.00

Accommodation (3 nights @ $315)         –              $  7,525.00

Gala Dinner (6 x $140.00)                       –              $     840.00

Other Meals                                             –              $     663.50

Transport Expenses (5 vehicles)             –              $     400.00

Valet Parking (5 vehicles)                        –              $     420.00

TOTAL                                                     –              $17,508.50

Apart from my concerns over this level of expenditure on a single conference, I’m also concerned that the adopted budget for Councillor conferences and seminars has been blown to pieces after just 4 ½  months of the financial year.

The total 2012/13 budget for this is $15,405.00.

I’ve been advised that prior to this conference, Councillors had already spent $18,967.00 ($3,562.00 over budget).

With the additional costs of the latest conference, the current total expenditure for the financial year is $36,475.50 ($21,070.50 over budget) with 7 ½ months remaining.

At a time of financial constraints when ratepayer concerns and requests are rigorously tested against adopted budgets and dealt with or rejected on a priority basis, I’m unable to understand how this degree of expenditure can be justified. I can only assume that something else within the budget will now have to be cut from it to cover this overrun.

Since the conference I’ve tried to gain an assurance that steps will be taken to ensure that this scenario won’t be repeated however I’ve been unable to secure such a commitment.

Having exhausted those attempts and to ensure that I’m not seen as providing tacit support for this type of expenditure by turning a blind eye, I wish to place on record the fact that I distance myself from it.

I anticipate some interesting debate the next time Council proposes to refuse a funding application for a worthy community event because of a tight budget or the fact that it doesn’t represent a priority.

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