Council enjoys big bite from public purse

By Carmen Hall

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Bay of Plenty Regional Council's chief executive and chair have spent more than $18,700 on credit cards for meals since the last elections in 2010.

Figures obtained under the Official Information Act by the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend show chief executive Mary-Anne McLeod, who earns a $298,180 salary, clocked up credit card expenses of $21,742 over the same period, which also included travel, accommodation, conferences and subscriptions to the value of $981.

Chairman John Cronin, who collects a $122,006 pay packet, and racked up $15,005 in credit card spending with $8581 spent on food.

Strategy general manager Fiona McTavish said the credit card spend for council had decreased.

Total spending on regional council credit cards dropped from $125,924 in 2010/11 and $146,799 in 2011/12 to $86,972 in 2012/13.

"These decreases show the regional council's focus on efficiency and effectiveness is paying off the council's bottom line. We are clearly questioning everything we spend to do our job and it is receiving results in all areas."

The regional council did not answer questions from the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend and said it needed more time to collect data about specific amounts and breakdowns.

Senior communications advisor Linda Thompson said councillors, leaders and managers were accountable for "properly and prudently spending public money under their control".

Former Papamoa Progressive Association chair Steve Morris said that amount of spending on food was "pretty scary and outrageous".

Mr Morris, who will be contesting the Mount/Papamoa seat in October's city council elections, said the regional council was abile to fly under the radar because their rate bills were significantly less and it was "out of people's minds what they do".

"They don't have the spotlight on them but should be held accountable."

Tauranga City Council mayor Stuart Crosby has a credit card, chief executive Gary Poole who was paid $340,000 in total remuneration per year does not. But 54 staff members hold P Cards that have accounted for over $300,000 of expenditure in 2013 compared with $406,668.42 in 2011.

Minor items less than $500, such as meals, travel, accommodation, books, and library resources software and hardware were charged.

Financial controller Paul Davidson said it was a lower cost to process purchases via credit cards and they were authorised by executive management on a monthly basis.

Communications advisor Frank Begley said The P cards are just another procurement tool. "Council procures upwards of $66 million annually, so $300,000 is less than one per cent of the total procurement."

Mr Crosby has not used his credit card since September last year but accumulated $2,441.83 in 2012 and $3,422.70 in 2011. Taxis, accommodation and airfares made up the majority of expenses. Miscellaneous purchases were explained as a $20 change of airfare and $57 meal in July 2011 and a $30.45 meal and $30 change of airfare in July last year. On some occasions he paid for his own breakfast or dinner while attending council business.

"Credit card spending should and is only used for council-related business," Mr Crosby said. His salary package was $136,348 an increase of $26,570 since 2010.

The Western Bay of Plenty District Council mayor Ross Paterson was in line for a proposed pay rise from $97,556 to $105,750 for 2013/14. In May 2011 he charged $3,935 against his card for an Innovators conference that he attended with chief executive Glenn Snelgrove and deputy mayor Paul Thomas. Mr Paterson put his car through the car wash eight times in 2011 and bought a bottle of Bars Bugs. Communications advisor Peter Hennessey said the cost was incurred as part of the mayor using his vehicle for travel to and from council events and meetings around the Western Bay of Plenty District.

In September 2011, Mr Paterson sponsored children from the Community Home Care Trust, Child Cancer and a number of young people to attend the World Festival of Magic. He put $300 on the credit card.

"It is a charity function for special needs and disadvantaged children of the Bay of Plenty, they approach the mayor for support."

Chief executive Glenn Snelgrove does not have a credit card and his salary totals $335,000.

The mayor's credit card spend from October 2010 to December 2012 was $10,411.39.

He has not used the credit card since January.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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