Legal fees break council's budget
TWEED Shire Council will need to reallocate money to cover yet another budget blowout of $200,000 in legal fees.
The latest budget report reveals council spent $979,757 in legal services from July 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018, with the total amount paid from January 1 to March 31 equalling $201,127.
Tweed Daily News reported in March that council had approved an additional $500,000 to cover increasing costs to defend about 20 decisions in court.
During Thursday's meeting, the council unanimously approved another relocation of $200,000 to cover the current shortfall in the Development Assessment legal expenses during the first quarter of this year.
Despite his support of the report, Councillor Warren Polglase slammed the council's pattern of overspending its legal budget, and said many of the decisions that led to court could have been avoided.
He cited the council's decision to reject an application to build a larger water park at the North Star Holiday Resort at Hastings Point which was overturned by the Land and Environment Court earlier this year.
"Council should realise there is an enormous cost hidden in these legal fees,” Cr Polglase said.
Cr Polglase said town planning staff were being tied up with court cases instead of focusing on assessing development applications.
"You can't go roaring into staff saying they're not getting jobs done on time when they're busy with court cases,” he said.
However, Mayor Katie Milne rejected his claims, saying it was important council voted on the best option for the community, regardless of whether the decision ended up in court.
"There's probably two or three court cases that we've gone against council staff advice,” Cr Milne said.
"A large proportion of (the report) is against compliance issues, some of (the costs) are about (development applications) and some of them are against legal advice council needs in the general scheme of operations.
"We are are elected councillors to defend what we see as the community's interest, which is mostly the same as the council's advice.
"I'm a bit tired of hearing that we're running up a legal bill that's overboard. ($200,000) is not going to put council in jeopardy.”
Cr Ron Cooper said it was the council's responsibility to ensure the public's best interests were upheld.
"As much as I've don't like to see that much time and money spent, I think it's our duty to follow through the community expectations,” he said.