COMBINED, mayors of the Southland region have spent more than $130,000 in ratepayer funds since the last round of local body elections two years ago.
The figures, obtained from three separate councils, include domestic travel to conferences, car-related costs and gifts to councillors and community groups.
Southland Mayor Gary Tong led all spending, clocking up just over $56,500 for the period between the October 2019 election and September this year.
Mr Tong’s most notable expenses include a donation of $5214 in vouchers for councillors in May last year, a donation to the ploughing championships in June of more than $900 and Te Anau street signage costing $1377.
In November 2019, the Southland District Council footed a bill of more than $2000 for car maintenance on the mayor’s 2020 Mazda CX-5.
Mr Tong said the spending was within reason, considering the scope of the area he represented.
“It’s part of what I need to do… as mayor of Southland. It’s a massive area, with a lot of people with diverse requirements.
“I do my bit to get out amongst them. To do that, I obviously need a vehicle and costs to run that.”
Mr Tong’s salary is $126,000 a year including the use of a car.
He said the donation of vouchers were for “four or five” retiring councillors who received $100 for each year of service they had given. The Te Anau signage bill was a memorial for former mayor, the late Frana Cardno.
“I’ve got no issues with justifying my spending actually,” Mr Tong said.
“My partner worked my salary out at about $5 an hour. I’m not complaining about my salary, I think it’s fine. If people were going to judge me on that, I’d start keeping an eye on my hours and actually putting them in.”
Invercargill Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt earns the most of the region’s mayors, bringing in an annual salary of $140,000 including the use of a Chrysler 300C which the council bought in 2015.
Sir Tim’s spending for the two years between his re-election in 2019 and October 2021 came in at just over $53,500.
In October 2019, the council spent $683.27 on the repair of a discoloured left side lamp on the Chrysler, followed by a service and brake check in November 2020 totalling $1212.
In December 2019, the mayor gave culture and lifestyle magazine The Life to SIT students at a cost of $4998.
Sir Tim said that gift had now ceased to students, and was formerly taken from a separate promotional budget which had since “vanished”.
Meanwhile, Gore Mayor Tracy Hicks spent the least of the three mayors, spending just over half what Mr Tong did.
Between November 2019 and August this year, Mr Hicks spent just over $29,000, including the use and maintenance of a 2019 Ford Endura.
“We run everything in Gore on the smell of an oily rag,” he said.
Mayors receive a reduced salary for the bonus of having a vehicle.
In 2018, the Remuneration Authority completed a review of how the remuneration of elected members was determined at a local level.
Remuneration is determined by the size of the governance role of each council, the average time required by an elected member, and a general comparison with parliamentary salaries.
- Matthew Rosenberg is the Local Democracy Reporter