By Alice Angeloni, Local Democracy Reporter
A rural councillor who travels two hours each way to attend council meetings in Gisborne has claimed $17,000 to cover mileage and time.
Councillor Bill Burdett, who lives near Ruatoria, made the largest "sensitive expenditure" claim of Gisborne district councillors and the Mayor — $11,082 for mileage and $5962 for travel time.
All up, Gisborne's elected members claimed $47,000 for sensitive expenditure in the financial year ending June 30, 2020.
The council's Audit and Risk Committee's independent chair Bruce Robertson said the spending looked "eminently suitable" and he had actually wondered why it wasn't more.
"It struck me as incredibly frugal," he said.
A report to the committee last week said most of the expenditure was for travel, with a high proportion being unavoidable costs like mileage claimed by councillors living in Ruatoria and Tolaga Bay.
Burdett said it was simple.
"If the job is to be done, you have to travel. How else would you do it?"
It was a four-hour round trip, or about 270km, to travel to and from meetings.
He did this two, sometimes three times a week.
"I don't think I've ever missed a meeting."
Burdett has been at the council table since 1998.
"The rural councillors are so important to the operation of council although it hasn't appeared that way of late," he said.
"Staff tend to have the support of the city councillors almost all the time. It's a hard task for rural councillors.
"I firmly believe the wealth of this region comes from the rural sector."
Travel, transport and training costs made up 93 per cent of total costs, or $43,700.
The sensitive expenditure policy for elected members covers travel, accommodation, entertainment, communication devices, koha and training.
Former Mayor Meng Foon, who resigned in August 2020, was reimbursed for a spend of $592 for travel, transport and training, and $2626 for entertainment.
Current Mayor Rehette Stoltz was covered for $8736 in travel, transport and training, and $748 for entertainment.
The report said the Mayor's expenses included airfares, accommodation and fuel costs together with registration costs to attend meetings, including the Local Government NZ conference.
Mayoral entertainment expenses covered meetings with local business networks, including CEO Regional Sector, The Gisborne Herald, Cruise Liner president, KiwiRail and hosting delegates from Tahiti.
Of councillors, rural councillor Pat Seymour had the second-highest claim of $5939.
This covered $2904 for mileage, $526 for stationery and taxis and $573 for airfares and fees.
She claimed back $1936 on district licensing fees.
Josh Wharehinga was the third-highest claim of $2966, which covered a conference worth $1304 and airfares and fees of $1662.
Under the policy, councillors are not reimbursed for the first two hours of travel in one day but receive $37.50 for every hour that follows.
For a petrol or diesel vehicle, councillors can claim 79 cents per kilometre for the first 14,000 kilometres of travel during their term, and 30 cents per kilometre thereafter.
Mayor Stoltz said for three or four months of this time period they didn't go anywhere due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"We also need to take into account that it is quite low because of Covid," she said.
"We zoomed. We didn't travel. That would have been our busiest time of year.
"We would have had our 20 consultation meetings,
I would have been going up the Coast 20 times.
"That time is not reflected in this," Mayor Stoltz said.
Sensitive expenditure for the financial year ending June 30, 2020
Mayor Meng Foon
Travel, transport and training: $592
Mayor Rehette Stoltz
Travel, transport and training: $8,736
Elected members costs of travel, transport and training:
Meredith Akuhata Brown $1,596
Sandra Faulkner $1,850
Larry Foster $1,921
Malcolm MacLean $392
Pat Seymour $5,941
Terry Sheldrake $439
Bill Burdett $17,045
Andy Cranston $274
Graeme Thomson $282
Brian Wilson $97
Kerry Worsnop $1,184
Tony Robinson $174
Debbie Gregory $184
Amber Dunn $66
Josh Wharehinga $2,967
- Local Democracy Reporting