Matthew Martin is a senior reporter at the Rotorua Daily Post

Heated debate over accounts

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Councillor Rob Kent pictured at a council meeting in May this year.
Councillor Rob Kent pictured at a council meeting in May this year.

Councillor and mayoral candidate Rob Kent has once again drawn the ire of some colleagues after accusing Rotorua Lakes Council staff of using "smoke and mirrors" in their financial reporting.

Mr Kent made the allegation at a meeting of the council's Operations and Monitoring Committee today and was asked to apologise by committee chairwoman Janet Wepa, which he did.

While the majority of councillors spoke highly of the council's financial staff, including chief financial officer Thomas Colle, who presented councillors with a positive financial picture at yesterday's meeting, Mr Kent and fellow councillor and mayoral candidate Mark Gould grilled Mr Colle about some of the financial figures for the year ending June 30.

According to a report prepared by the council's finance manager Paul Sands, the council "has maintained its strong financial performance to come in better than budget for year one of the 10-year plan". Mr Colle explained revenue was up $1.8 million and borrowing was down by the same amount.

He said the council also had a cash surplus of $3.3 million and, after the deferral of some major capital works projects, ended up $1.4 million better than budget.

Mr Gould and Mr Kent questioned why debt figures in two public financial documents were different and asked which was correct.

Mr Colle explained one was a group debt and the other was council debt. Both were correct, he said.

Mr Kent asked further questions about debt, fees and charges, revenue, the rates budget and the airport's accounts and at one stage, described an answer to a question by Mr Colle as "smoke and mirrors".

"It is not smoke and mirrors, it's actually just basic accounting," Mr Colle responded.

Mrs Wepa told Mr Kent to apologise, which he did, although Mrs Wepa commented it did not seem particularly genuine.

"I haven't made this up, you are just struggling to understand how it actually works," Mr Colle told Mr Kent.

Mr Colle said staff followed the letter of the law and the council's books were always scrutinised by the Office of the Auditor General.

He said the council's financial reporting was "fair and transparent" so the community could understand it.

Mrs Wepa defended the council's financial staff saying councillors relied on their expertise.

"I'm sorry you are in a position of trying to justify yourself Thomas ... you shouldn't have to be."

- Rotorua Daily Post

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