SEOUL SOCIAL: Wodonga says yes, Albury says no to overseas trip

Rod Wangman said the trip to Korea could benefit Wodonga Council. Picture: TARA GOONAN
Rod Wangman said the trip to Korea could benefit Wodonga Council. Picture: TARA GOONAN

WODONGA Council will send chief executive Patience Harrington and Cr Lisa Mahood on a ratepayer-funded trip to a social enterprise world forum in South Korea later this year.

An invitation from Wodonga mayor Rod Wangman was extended to Albury Council to join the Wodonga delegation at a recent informal get-together between the two councils.

But Albury has so far declined the opportunity to accompany Ms Harrington and Cr Mahood, who will be among 600 international delegates at the world forum in Seoul in mid-October for up to five days.

The plans have emerged in the same week Wodonga Council proposed a 4.75 per cent rate increase, which has seen it remain among the highest rating councils in the state and shouldering a $30 million debt.

The annual social enterprise world forum was held in Canada last year with each delegate paying $695 to attend the full conference.

Cr Wangman said airfares and accommodation for Ms Harrington and Cr Mahood would be covered by money set aside for staff and councillor professional development.

The council allocates $20,000 for councillor professional development each year.

“This is not an extraordinary item,” he said.

“We believe this is so important for the future of Wodonga.

“All the services involved in this area deliver cross-border, but Albury has to decide 

whether this is an important spend of their ratepayers’ money.”

Albury mayor Kevin Mack did not agree.

Cr Wangman is driving the foray into social enterprise and believes a local presence at the world forum could be highly beneficial to the council.

“In a $65 million budget, such expenditure is a very small cost against the outcomes of improved, co-operative and strengthened not-for-profit and government service delivery in the welfare, unemployed and disengaged areas across Albury-Wodonga,” he said.

Cr Mack said based on initial feedback he doubted any of his colleagues would make the trip to Korea.

“We’ve had discussions with Wodonga regarding this proposal,” he said.

“But my personal view is that our councillors won’t support it.

“We are in the process of going through an ongoing service and efficiency review of all aspects of council operations.

“Such a proposal would not be acceptable to our ratepayers.”

The most recent overseas travel by an Albury councillor was in 2009.

Cr Patricia Gould, who was mayor at the time, led a delegation including two staff members to its Chinese sister city, Nanping.

The trip cost close to $23,000 and created heated debate among her fellow councillors at the time.