$6000 for council Christmas function

By Matthew Martin

District councillors and senior council staff have enjoyed a  Christmas function which cost Rotorua ratepayers almost $6000.

Rotorua District Council chief executive Peter Guerin said the end-of-year get-together was organised by staff for councillors, senior staff and their partners and was held at the Rotorua Convention Centre.

Mr Guerin said estimated costs for the end of year function were $5859 _ $136 per head for the 43 people invited.

Councillors spoken to by The Daily Post before the function said they were unaware of the cost, with councillors Charles Sturt and Glenys Searancke saying $136 a head was "ridiculous''.

"Are they giving away gold-plated spoons as gifts?'' Mr Sturt said.

"We have tried being frugal this year and to hear about this leaves me wondering why we even bother. I'd rather that money went to the St John's Christmas lunch,'' he said.

Mrs Searancke said she thought it would cost a lot less considering the venue was council-owned.

"Maybe there is some entertainment. But it does not look good, especially in this day and age where people are very sensitive to this sort of spending,'' she said.

Councillor Dave Donaldson said he was also unaware of the cost. "This was organised for us ... $136 a head has got to be more than just dinner.''

He said in the past he had not attended council end-of-year dinners, once in sympathy to council staff who also missed out on a Christmas party.

"And a few years ago we went to the Regent but we paid our own way,'' he said.

Mr Guerin said the traditional council staff Christmas lunch was dropped a few years ago because of the economic climate. Some council departments would be holding separate functions this year with a maximum allowance of $15 a head, but costs would largely be met by staff.

Rotorua Mayor Kevin Winters defended the cost of the get-together, saying the function provided the opportunity for elected members to celebrate the end of the year.

"And to acknowledge a number of people who support us in carrying out our public roles.

"This includes spouses and partners who provide so much unpaid support to us, have to put up with calls at all times of the day and night, and put up with our absences when we're on council business, attending meetings.

"It's also a chance to express our thanks to our managers for their support and professional advice and to the democracy support team of council who handle all of our administrative arrangements, record meeting minutes, organise meetings and agendas.''

He said the cost of this year's function includes a sit-down dinner at $65 per head, an allowance for beverages of $27.90 per head, staffing at $350, equipment hire at $800, and entertainment by two local pianists and a local dance group at $600.

The council's corporate and customer services chairwoman, Janet Wepa, said she did not think the cost was excessive but said councillors had seriously cut back on lunches and dinners in the past few years as they were very mindful of the economic climate.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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