2016/2017 financial year

Western Bay of Plenty District Council

$52,000 in budget

$30,000 year to date

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Tauranga City Council
$28,000 budget
$11, 830 year to date

Bay of Plenty Regional Council
$15,000 in budget
$14,485 year to date


Catered meetings at Bay councils eat up between $12,000 and $30,000, new figures show.

The cost of councillors' meals varied between the three local councils - Western Bay District Council was the biggest spender, averaging $25 per head for lunch, while Tauranga City Council was the most frugal spender.

The topic came into focus after Hutt City councillors tucked into a ratepayer-funded buffet last week, leading one fed-up councillor to call for his colleagues to bring their lunch or pay for catering themselves.

No banquets are lining the stomachs of our elected members, but a tidy sum of ratepayer money is spent on free food for councillors.

Western Bay of Plenty District Council

Western Bay residents pay the highest rates in the country - of which $52,000 goes to "Councillor Meeting Expenses".

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Customer relationships manager Barbara Whitton said the council provided meals for all-day meetings, or when there were meetings in the morning and afternoon, of which there were about 70 a year.

"Our main office at Barkes Corner is not located adjacent to any commercial area with ready access to cafes, so it is not easy or quick for our councillors to source their own lunches, and we provide lunch for these meetings," she said.

Feeding councillors also meant shorter breaks.

The 12 councillors received soup, rolls, wraps, cake and fruit.

"Lunches average $25 per head - which includes delivery."

In the financial year to date, the district council had spent $30,000.

Last year only $26,000 was budgeted and $22,000 spent - this was increased to allow for an increase of in community engagement and meetings.

"For example in the month of May, there were 20 hours of 'in community' meetings planned in response to community demand and in these cases food - morning or afternoon tea - was provided for councillors and members of the community," Ms Whitton said.

Mayor Garry Webber said for councillors who earn just over $40,000 a year; a free lunch was a "fair and reasonable" part of the compensation package.

He said if catering spending was the biggest thing the council had to worry about in its expenditure package then "we've lost our way".

Western Bay Ward Residents and Ratepayers Association chairman Thys Polstra said because so much of their money went to rates, residents in the Western Bay were alert to money wasting.

"Having $52,000 in the budget for catering looks very exorbitant but if they are spending more like $30,000 that is a step in the right direction."

Mr Polstra said councillors needed to re-evaluate whether it was appropriate to spend it on free lunches.

Tauranga City Council

City council budgeted $28,000 for catering this year but spending year to date was at $11,830.

Governance team leader Tone Nerdrum Smith said the council only provided lunch when councillors had meetings all day. The meals consisted of sandwiches and light dishes such as frittatas or kebabs.

The 11 elected members had limited breaks when in chambers all day and working lunches were a regular occurrence, he said.

The budget for the 2016/17 year was increased by $5000 from 2015/16 to keep up with increases in food prices and expectations of councillors' higher attendance at meetings, particularly for the Heart of the City project.

Mayor Greg Brownless said lunch was provided maybe once a week, but he usually brought his own lunch.

"If we do get lunch it's sandwiches, maybe a wrap, a bit of fruit and I think once we did have a couscous-y thing."

Mr Brownless said it was not extravagant and that was the way it should be.

Matua Residents Association member Richard Kluit said it was about convenience to make sure councillors got their work done efficiently.

"The cost is not exorbitant; I don't have an issue with it. Council needs to be frugal, but if you want continuity during these long meetings, then it's simpler to put on lunch."

Bay of Plenty Regional Council

Regional council has scrapped afternoon teas but catered morning tea or lunch for meetings or workshops that lasted more than three hours.

Corporate performance general manager Mat Taylor said the catering budget of $15,000 was not wholly ratepayer funding - some money came from investment income.

Morning tea cost about $7.50 excluding GST and lunch was $15.50 excluding GST.

"This is for the 14 elected members only and consists of readily available finger food such as sandwiches, savoury items, sweet slice, fruit and tea/coffee.

"This helps ensure the meeting or workshop can be run efficiently. We do not provide buffet or hot meals," Mr Taylor said.

The catering budget also covered events such as hosting other councils or visitors to the region.

Doug Leeder, chairman of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, said typically meetings featured catering when elected members from other councils and guests from other organisations had travelled to attend. A meeting this week included nine such guests, went for most of the day, and Mr Leeder said he was sure ratepayers would expect the council showed the appropriate manaakitanga (hospitality).

"I would be surprised if anyone in our region invited people into their home to spend a day working through something [unpaid] and not show manaakitanga."

Mr Leeder said the costs did add up. However, he was certain anyone running an organisation would appreciate that $15 a head for lunch was at the lower end of the scale.