Great Councils RIP-OFF

As ratepayers buckle under their highest-ever bills, a Herald Sun investigation found 110 councillors, chief executives and directors from 20 councils swiped ratepayer-funded credit cards thousands of times in the past two years.

Personalised numberplates, limo hire, valet parking, staff awards, gifts, deluxe car washes, international phone calls, liquor and clothing are among items billed to council credit cards.

A former Greater Dandenong mayor even used his card to pay for a $7.05 McDonald's meal.

Credit cards are used in addition to reimbursed expenses - annual allowances up to $57,500 for suburban councillors and $110,000 for City of Melbourne councillors.

Council executives collect annual salary packages of up to $250,000, plus bonuses.

As allowances and salaries rise, so have rates - up an average 7 per cent across Victoria this year.

Documents obtained under Freedom of Information show details of credit card spending at hotels, restaurants, car parks, shops, travel companies and online stores.

Greater Dandenong was the biggest spender, running up $160,000 on 11 cards over the past two calendar years.

Outer-eastern Casey spent the most per capita, splurging $157,000 on four cards - almost $40,000 each.

Both councils' average rates just rose $41, to $599 in Greater Dandenong and $674 in Casey.

Documents also reveal:

CHIEF executives, directors and councillors at the 20 councils have access to at least $506,000 credit each month, with monthly limits ranging from $1000 to unlimited.

TWO councils - Bayside and Darebin - have no policies on credit card use and Stonnington allows its mayor to use the card for personal expenditure as long as it is reimbursed.

DIRECTORS and councillors were ordered to pay back almost $1000 for personal items bought with ratepayer-funded credit cards.

COUNCIL leaders spent almost $150,000 on meals at some of Australia's top restaurants and $154,000 staying at ritzy hotels across the globe.

GIFTS for staff and visitors, including jewellery, shoes, electrical goods, fine china and flowers cost ratepayers $16,000.

MAROONDAH Council refused to release its card statements, claiming use of the ratepayer-funded cards was private.

SEVERAL officers breached policies, including two who used cards for cash advances.

The Herald Sun found council policies on credit cards ranged from one paragraph to 20 pages and some did not include a list of banned items.

Municipal Association of Victoria chief executive Rob Spence called on councils to develop strict rules for credit card use.

"There needs to be limits and controls on what they can spend on,"Mr Spence said.

He said most councils used credit cards wisely and use was monitored by the Auditor-General.

Dandenong Residents and Ratepayers Association spokeswoman Christine Ware said spending by Greater Dandenong Council was staggering.

"We accept there is going to be some level of expenses . . . but the fact they exceeded Melbourne, who would have a far bigger need in that area, is unbelievable,"she said.

But Dandenong chief executive Warwick Heine said the council used credit cards instead of reimbursement to have more control over spending.

"It has significantly reduced cash handling, which is one of our biggest exposures to the potential for fraud,"he said.

Casey residents were "stunned"council director Jennie Lee used her credit card to pay almost $800 in boarding kennel fees while on eight business trips.

"Everyone else who ever goes away needs to find someone to look after their pets,"Cranbourne and District Residents Association spokeswoman Joanne Blanch said.

The council said in a statement it paid kennel fees "to allow (Ms Lees) to attend activities for and on behalf of council where it is necessary that she is away".

A Moonee Valley council spokeswoman said former mayor Don Cornish paid $468 for Grand Final tickets in 2001 "when Moonee Valley's only team, Essendon, featured in the Grand Final".

Moonee Valley, where average rates jumped $89 to $856, also paid $550 to hire costumes for a staff revue.

Melbourne Council paid fines of $500 for an overdue car registration and $40 for a CityLink "no tag in vehicle"fee.

Banyule, in the northern suburbs, paid $495 for personalised numberplates BCC 01 for its $40,000 half-electric, half-petrol pool car.

Boroondara, Frankston, Glen Eira, Kingston, Monash, Moreland, Nillumbik and Whittlesea councils do not issue credit cards to executive management and councillors.

Great rates swipe
Michelle Rose

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Great Councils RIP-OFF 

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