She’s our no-costs councillor

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Queenstown councillor Van­­­essa van Uden has inadvertently shown up her peers – by not claiming a cent for expenses or mileage.

The pleasant surprise for ratepayers stems from a Mountain Scene Official Information re­­­­­quest showing Wakatipu members of Queenstown Lakes District Council racked up $22,540 in expenses and mileage claims between July 2008-June 2009.

But Van Uden denies she’s trying to set an example.

“I’d love to be able to say that I had a moral objection to [claiming expenses] but it’s actually more a function of time. I simply haven’t had time [to put a claim in].

“Whether I will ever get time, I’m not sure.”

The information released by QLDC shows mayor Clive Geddes is the most-travelled local politician.

He drove 16,292km during the 2008-09 financial year – averaging 313km a week – to claim $11,404.
The mileage rate is 70 cents per km – set down by the Remuneration Authority at the IRD employee rate.
“You’d expect me to be [the highest claim] because I’m the only one elected from the community at large,” Geddes says.

“Probably 30 per cent of that mileage is return trips to Dunedin. There are various meetings that I’m part of like Otago Forward, the Regional Land Transport Committee and those sorts of things.

“That’s just part of being the mayor. Someone else can do it if they like,” he laughs.

Geddes also claimed $1605 for meals, airport taxes and phone calls.

After Geddes, Arrowtown councillor and committee chairman John Mann is the highest-claiming Wakatipu representative on mileage, collecting $4625.

“Committee chairs do a lot of meetings probably that a lot of other councillors may not do. I’m just surprised more than anything that I’m the leading consumer – I certainly don’t mean to be.”

Cath Gilmour is the only Wakatipu councillor to have claimed non-mileage expenses – $241 on phone calls, a meal worth $47.50 and a taxi.

QLDC boss Duncan Field was the largest council consumer of non-mileage expenses.

He collected $4075 for accommodation and meals during the council year – including a $691 “hospitality GM’s dinner”.

While Field doesn’t claim mileage – he gets a car as part of his remuneration package – there’s a claim for “petrol” lumped in with a $635 claim from March this year.

Interestingly, councillors can claim for driving from their homes to QLDC offices on Gorge Rd.

QLDC shrugs off $60,000 auditor’s disclosure

A potential $60,000 liability “picked up” by auditors is small change to Queenstown Lakes District Council.
The undisclosed risk on two leaky-building claims totalling $3.92 million was just one of several matters queried by auditors combing through QLDC’s annual financial accounts.

The auditors required changes before giving the accounts a clean bill of health – which they now have.

The original unaudited accounts put out by QLDC said “no significant [legal] claims” were likely against the council.

But the auditors obviously felt the leaky-building claim was significant and insisted the final accounts spell out how QLDC is a party to the $3.92m claims – an estimated $60,000 would be payable in insurance excess if the council is found liable.

Briefing councillors after the changes, QLDC money-man Stewart Burns is minuted as “circulating a schedule of minor amendments sought by auditors”.

Many changes are minor but the leaky-building risk was undisclosed in the unaudited accounts previously released to the public and media saying there were no significant legal risks.

Mountain Scene asked QLDC finance boss Burns why the leaky-building risk wasn’t spelled out originally.
“No idea – it’s probably wording from the previous year.”

Auditors have review processes, he says.

“So one of the review processes obviously picked up that they … they’ve suggested an amended wording and we’ve agreed with it.”

Should your unaudited accounts have disclosed the risk before the auditors had to make you do so?
“No, that sort of disclosure is negotiated between the auditor and the client – always is.”

Burns says audit amendments happen yearly: “We wouldn’t view [this year’s] as significant amendments.”
Still feel the auditors’ leaky-building disclosure is a “minor amendment”?

“In the context of the annual report – yes.”

QLDC’s annual accounts revealed a shock $6.1m bottom-line loss.

The Weathertight Homes Resolution Service says there are currently seven leaky-building claims in the Wakatipu and Wanaka – but WHRS can’t say how many are against QLDC.

– Frank Marvin