Council legal fees $454,690 for year

NUMEROUS court battles are taking a heavy toll on Tweed Shire Council coffers, with new figures revealing council forks out an aston- ishing three-times the aver- age weekly income on a daily basis for its legal costs. Figures published in the council's annual report to the NSW government state --------------- --------------- that in the last financial year (2006-07) council incurred le- gal costs of $454,690, an aver- age of $1245.72 a day. By comparison, 2006 cen- sus data shows the average individual income in the fed- eral electorate of Richmond for people over 15 was $374 a week. The average house- hold income was just $721. The council report says about $140,000 was spent on court cases in- volving Gales Holdings which claims to have chalked up 11 wins against the council. But the 2006-07 payments do not in- clude up to as much as $1 million in court costs which the High Court awarded to Gales in June as part of the long-running battle over a pro- posed shopping centre site. The council, however, argues those costs will be $173,000.

Yesterday Gales director Dr% Stephen Segal expressed surprise at the council's figures, saying the costs appeared far higher just for cases in- volving his company. Dr Segal said the council had sent --------------- --------------- Gales two bills totalling nearly $450,000, neither of which the com-% pany had to pay. "One case was overturned on% appeal," he said. "In the other we had another court case over whether to pay the costs and they were unsuccessful." "If that's two bills that amount to about $450,000 it makes you wonder what's going on." In a third case which the council lost involving a "Freedom of Informa- tion" request, he said he could not see how various costs quoted by the coun- cil in its reports over the past three years reflected costs the council had to pay Gales Holdings. "It would be surprising if these% figures bear any relation to reality," he said. "Secondly, whatever the costs --------------- --------------- so far, they will unfortunately be much more in the future." Council's general manager Mike Rayner said the council had "always wanted to avoid unnecessary legal proceedings", but Gales Holdings "has deliberately and continually placed this burden of legal costs on% ratepayers in its relentless pursuit of its goal to establish a Pacific Fair-style shopping centre at Kingscliff". Mr Rayner said there were no "mil- lions of dollars" in costs relating to the shopping centre court case, and the actual figure was $173,000. He also said council accounting documents showed no record of transactions to- talling $450,000 in relation to Gales Holdings. He said the $173,000 figure would appear in the council's 2007/08 financial statements.

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