Council splashes $567,000 on legal costs
SOUTH Gippsland Shire Council has been urged to reduce its legal expenditure after spending $567,724 on legal costs in 2015-16.
Cr Don Hill believes council needs to obtain more information about the reasons for the expenditure.
“I was surprised with how large the expenditure figures were on legal services. It represents two percent of our budget and I believe council should make further enquiries on the matter,” he said.
The highest proportion – $226,529 – went to ‘executive services’, while property and revenue legal costs amounted to $116,475.
Legal costs for the Long Jetty Caravan Park were $56,750 and the Yanakie Caravan Park $40,250.
“The fees expended on the caravan parks would not have been unexpected given the problems incurred in that area,” Cr Hill said.
Council and park annuals have been at loggerheads over council’s policy on running the parks.
“Still I believe council should at all times be looking to solve issues without resorting to legal teams and the resultant costs to ratepayers,” Cr Hill said.
‘People and culture’ legal costs amounted to $62,324.
The Star asked council to clarify the reasons for the legal costs and was told to do so may breach confidentially under the Privacy Act.
However Mayor Ray Argento contacted The Star via email on Monday saying “while it may seem a lot of money, when you put it into context it is less than one percent of our total income.
“It’s the equivalent of a household with an income of $60,000 spending around $550 on legal advice. Having sound legal advice is an unfortunate but necessary cost that councils incur in order to protect ratepayers and Council against possible unforeseen risks and greater costs in the future,” Cr Argento said.
The full list of legal costs is available in the minutes of council’s March 22 meeting on council’s website. It was published in response to a request to do so by Venus Bay’s Gus Blaauw, a member of the South Gippsland Action Group.
Mr Blaauw said he would have appreciated a breakdown of what the costs were for.
“Transparency are just words to be used in expressions to provide for a ‘good look’ appearance, but behind all the waffle and bad spin there is little transparency and openness available. To me that is the mark of a culture badly in need of change,” he said.
In 2015-16, Bass Coast Shire Council spent $233,000 on legal fees and debt recovery.
Short URL: http://thestar.com.au/?p=21100