Two Auckland City councillors accompanied by two bureaucrats are heading off on a month-long ratepayer-funded trip to visit art galleries, museums and sports facilities in the United States, Canada and Europe.

Yet the council-owned Auckland Zoo has been forced to fundraise to send a staffer to an elephant conference in the US.

Few details are known about the "study tour", except that City Vision councillors Vern Walsh and Penny Sefuiva will fly business class, start their trip in San Francisco and carry on to Vancouver, London, Paris, Bilbao, Barcelona, Prague and Berlin.

Joining them will be recreation and community services manager Cameron Parr and community planning manager Mark Vinall.

The Herald asked for details more than three weeks ago but has been able to get only sketchy details of the 27-day trip beginning next Sunday.

Communications manager Mark Fenwick said business-class airfares for the four cost $26,400 and there was an accommodation allowance of $150 a night, or $16,200. No figure was given for meal allowances, tips and other charges such as taxis and entrance fees. Democracy services manager Steve McDowell later admitted the $150-a-night accommodation allowance was wrong and the group would stay in hotels.

The trip comes when Mr Walsh, chairman of the finance committee, is preparing a budget hitting households with a rates increase of more than 11 per cent - a year after his first budget had a 9.7 per cent rates rise.

In contrast, the council-owned Auckland Zoo is having to sell tickets to a jumbo breakfast and personal meeting with elephants Kashin and Burma to raise $5000 to send senior zookeeper Andrew Coers to an international elephant management conference in New Mexico.

Mr Coers, who will fly economy class, said the conference was a chance to get exposure to other elephant programmes and specialists that would benefit Kashin and Burma.

According to a report to the arts, culture and recreation committee on the Sefuiva/Walsh "capacity-building study tour", the councillors hope to gain an understanding of significant issues in arts, culture and recreation and gain insights into planning, funding and developing those areas.

They will look specifically at cultural precincts, public art, major events such as festivals, the America's Cup and the soccer World Cup and at funding issues for cultural facilities such as museums.

Mayor Dick Hubbard and councillors have had up to 20 ratepayer-funded overseas trips in the first 18 months of this term at a total cost of about $61,000 - and are on track to pass the record spent on overseas missions set by the previous council under Mayor John Banks.

In the first two-and-a-bit years of the Banks mayoralty, councillors ran up $92,300 on overseas travel, compared with $58,200 for the same period in the previous administration.

The council has no plans to cut the budget for overseas travel or revert to economy class in this year's budget.

* Forty tickets for the jumbo breakfast experience are available at $70 each from the zoo information centre (09) 360-3805. 
 

Travel plans

* How Vern Walsh and Penny Sefuiva got to spend a month overseas on the ratepayer:
* November 2003: Councillors decide to fly business class on flights longer than seven hours.
* September 2005: Finance and corporate committee approves programme of overseas study tours. Councillors Vern Walsh and Penny Sefuiva draw up plans for a study tour.
* February 2006: Arts, culture and recreation committee, whose chairwoman is Mrs Sefuiva and deputy chairman is Mr Walsh, approves their study tour.