New Murrumbateman councillor Greg Butler has slapped council with a $744 bill for travel expenses to attend two regular council meetings.
And he promises to claim a lot more if he is required to return from interstate contractual work commitments that coincide with council meetings.
Cr Butler put in a claim to be reimbursed for driving 474 kilometres, from Bathurst and return, and 532km, from Sydney and return, to attend council meetings in Yass on October 3 and 24.
He had been away attending the Bathurst 1000 car race, and contract working in Sydney, at the time. Council generally meets midweek.
“They knew I’d be away. I’d asked them to have the meeting a week earlier so it wasn’t as difficult [for me to come]. But that wasn’t done,” he said of the first meeting.
Council’s general manager David Rowe said in his report to last week’s council meeting that the claim was “unreasonable”.
He suggested councillors opt to reject the claim outright; approve the claim at a cost of $744.44; or approve only the equivalent amount that would be reimbursed for travel from Cr Butler’s normal place of residence ($65.12 total for both meetings based on 22km travel from Murrumbateman.)
All councillors voted for the latter, except for Cr Butler, who abstained from the vote.
“Acceptance of the claim would have significant implications on the budget if the claim were to be replicated in many other months of the year, unless the proposed policy limit [for total expenses] of $2500 per councillor is strictly adhered to,” Mr Rowe said.
But Cr Butler took offence, claiming a change to the policy retrospectively was unfair.
“The guideline is that councillors should not be out of pocket,” he told the Tribune.
“I had known what council policy on this was before I stood for election, and while it is onerous, I can accept it. But I do take offence with them changing the rules after the event to disadvantage me.
“I believe this is a bit of a push to silence me. Why else would they try and disadvantage me and make it hard for me? What’s the reason behind all this?”
He rejected the idea council might not be able to afford it.
“I think they can afford that every month, considering what they pay the rest of their staff, yes. It’s only small bikkies in the big scheme of things. That’s why I’m annoyed it’s being brought up… retrospectively.”
Other councillors disagreed. Gary Ware pointed out that he has to employ someone to cover his shift at the Bowning Hotel for him to attend council meetings.
“I’m not going to claim that,” Cr Ware said. “We all knew when we took this job on that we were going to be out of pocket.”
Cr McManus asked where it would end, if this kind of claim was approved. “If I have to work in Mt Isa, should ratepayers pay for me to be flown back for a council meeting?”
But Cr Butler believes he is in the right and is determined to prove it.
“My job on council is to represent people in the community, not have my time tied up arguing things like this. This is a distraction from what I’m trying to do.”
Cr Butler said he would be taking the matter to the NSW Department of Local Government. However, he was in discussions about changing the meeting schedule and believed “we might be able to come to a compromise”.
“It’s impractical to fly and public transport isn’t going to work. How else am I meant to get around it? I don’t see what alternative there is, do you?”
He said it would be to council’s advantage if they moved meetings to Friday evenings so they wouldn’t need to reimburse him.
Councillors have agreed to consider moving council meeting times.