Southern Downs councillors come at considerable cost
SOUTHERN Downs councillors have run up an expenses bill totalling $54,000 in the past 12 months, according to the council's annual report.
The claims lodged by councillors (including Mayor Peter Blundell) include almost $35,000 on vehicle expenses and more than $7500 on catering.
The expenses for 2014/15 are $10,000 less than the previous year and even less than the 2012/13 financial year.
Expense claims are on top of the $600,000 in wages paid to the mayor and eight councillors.
While expenses such as catering, conferences and legal fees are generally mandatory, telephone allowances and vehicle reimbursement are optional.
Should councillors be entitled to claim expenses?
This poll ended on 26 November 2015.
This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.
Stanthorpe-based Cr Vic Pennisi had the largest claim, totalling more than $24,000 - including $19,942.50 on vehicle expenses.
It's not the first time Cr Pennisi has run up a large expenses claim.
In 2013/14, he claimed slightly less - which included $18,802.50 for vehicle expenses.
"I don't have any issue with what I've claimed - I've claimed what I have used," he said.
"If I'm too expensive, I'm happy to be judged at the election."
According to the annual report, councillors do have access to an official company vehicle when conducting council business.
"A councillor wishing to use a council vehicle for council business must submit a request to the chief executive officer at least two days prior to use, except in exceptional circumstances," the report reads.
Deputy Mayor Cr Ross Bartley, who claimed more than $5000 in vehicle expenses, said he only claimed mileage for meetings.
Cr Bartley said getting use of a council vehicle was difficult for councillors.
"While we might claim mileage, our vehicles are worn out," he said.
The mayor is given use of an official council vehicle, a Holden Statesman, for council business and private purposes at an undisclosed cost to ratepayers
Mayor Peter Blundell defended his expense claims.
"It obviously costs councillors to attend the functions they do, it costs councillors to do the business of council," he said.
"I think that the majority of my expenses are in relation to attendance at conferences, including the LGAQ conference."
The mayor also said he paid for two trips to Japan out of his own pocket - without claiming them as an expense.
While Cr Blundell wouldn't be drawn on commenting on the expenses of other individual councillors, he did say they were will within their rights to claim relevant expenses.
"What isn't reported in the media is the amount councillors contribute to community groups and charities," he said.
"Very few of us can walk past a raffle or fundraiser and not contribute in some way."
Not all the councillors chose to claim expenses they are entitled to.
Cr Jamie Mackenzie, Jo McNally and Cameron Gow didn't claim any vehicle or telephone expenses for a second year in a row.