Civic leaders on a NSW Riverina council were “disappointed” to learn more than $700 of ratepayers’ money was spent without their approval.
Councillors at Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council were made aware of the spending when reading the quarterly budget review statement at a council meeting.
According to the budget review statement, most of the money was spent on a “refurbishment of the Cootamundra Town Hall”.
“It has come to light that expenditure on this project has exceeded $700,000, with no budget allocated,” the budget review stated.
“Potential remedial measures will be identified and presented to council as a matter of urgency.”
During the meeting, Mayor Abb McAlister said the spending was “most disappointing”.
“It’s $700,000 spent on the Cootamundra Civic Centre that until last week we knew nothing about it,” he said.
“The works have been done, and to me it’s not going to go over well with the ratepayers.
“I just can’t understand why $700,000 of works can be done. It makes you say to yourself ‘Is there a reason why I’m here? Do I really need to be here?’.
“That really blew me away.”
Cr McAlister said council would likely have to approve the completion of works, at an additional cost to ratepayers.
Cr Gil Kelly said the $700,000 spend had gone towards a building that brought in just $4000 of income over two years.
“You ask the majority of ratepayers where they would like that money spent, given the choice between fixing the town hall and the road to the hospital, I know where everyone would want the money spent,” Cr Kelly said.
Cr McAlister said he agreed that the town hall works were “not a good return on investment”.
The remaining $25,000 was for a tractor purchased for a community group but placed on a list of council’s plant and equipment assets.
According to the minutes from the Cootamundra Showground Users Group committee meeting, the group had sought a tractor with a 60-inch under deck mower and a “bucket for filling holes”.
“The tractor is broken and cannot be fixed, so it has gone and won’t be back,” the minutes stated.
“The GM (Allen) Dwyer has promised us a new replacement but it will be council plane (sic) and as such people need to be inducted into the council (Work Health and Safety) methodology.”
Cr McAlister said he was concerned the council’s general manager had taken such steps without council approval.
“I see the GM has allowed them to buy a new mower that has gone onto our plant. I just think that is something we have got to be very careful of,” Cr McAlister said.
“We have all these other groups in other towns … setting a precedent like this and, once again, where this is annoying is that it was not run past council and it wasn’t in the budget.
“It’s too late now, but once again I ask: What am I doing here?’ This is disappointing once again. I know the committee does a great job but this sets a precedent.”
Mr Dwyer is on suspension with pay while the council investigates its record-keeping after Mr Dwyer’s use of a council credit card during prior employment at Hay Shire was brought into question.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council also approved a new code of conduct for staff use of credit cards.
NSW Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton last week demanded councils across the state implement new codes of conduct following reports Mr Dwyer used a council credit card for cash advances.