The great cheese platter debate of 2019

Cheesed off: Georges River Council has moved to stop serving cheese platters before council meetings, producing a saving of $9,200 per annum. Picture: Gary Medlicott The Age
Cheesed off: Georges River Council has moved to stop serving cheese platters before council meetings, producing a saving of $9,200 per annum. Picture: Gary Medlicott The Age

It will be remembered as the great cheese platter debate of 2019.

Georges River Councillors this week debated the merits of having cheese platters served before their council meetings.

With the council considering applying for a special rate variation of 8.1 per cent on top of the 2.5 per cent pegged rate increase, councillors are looking at ways of tightening their belts.

Councillor Sandy Grekas called for the cutbacks to the councillors' catering budget after she attended a rates information session and was asked by ratepayers what additional measures could be taken by councillors to cut costs.

On requesting details on catering expenses she was told that council spent $2,087 on alcoholic beverages, $9,220 on cheese platters, $1,585 on nibbles and snacks and $77,030 on hot dinners and desserts.

The council's total budget was $65,000 for catering expenses in the 2018/19 financial year while actual expenditure was $94,836.

"Some of the figures I have found are pretty shocking," Cr Grekas said.

She called on the council to:

1. Reduce the budget expenditure on alcohol by 50 per cent.

2. Eliminate expenditure on cheese platters.

3. Only provide hot meals before councils meetings and provide sandwiches and light refreshments before council briefings and committee meetings.

This was supported by the majority of councilors, but several were cheesed-off.

"We haven't made a decision whether there will be a rate increase," Cr Grekas said.

"But I think it is timely that if we are asking our residents to fork out more that, even if it is symbolic, we should be tightening our belts."

But Cr Vince Badalati spoke against the motion.

"We are pulling our weight because if there is a rate increase we as ratepayers, most of the people here, will be paying the increase as well," Cr Badalati said.

"If you want to cut costs, I'm 100 per cent behind you. If you want to cut costs I can find it very, very quickly. I would be able to find $2million a year very quickly.

"At the moment we are giving donations of nearly $1.5 million a year and to find another $500,000 would not be hard at all. And we would not have to raise rares and not have to go into petty little things like this.

"$2 million out of a total budget of $140 million would not be hard to find. It's the will to do it.

"So when you are looking at something that could save $10,000 to $20,000 in a (total council) budget of $140 million, this is something that is very small and is not going to help at all."

Cr Con Hindi described the motion as a joke.

"We amalgamated two councils to reduce expenditure not to reduce councillors' hot meals," he said.

"This is nothing but an election campaign."

Cr Kathryn Landsberry said it was not unreasonable councillors are compensated for their time.

"A lot of time is devoted to being on council. It's a seven-day a week job in many respects. We get emails and phone calls around the clock, but it strikes me as quite odd that we are spending over $9,000 on cheese.

"I do think we can cut down. We don't need to have hot meals before committee meetings or workshops.

"We do commit to going above and beyond on council. It's not an easy gig. But we don't need to spend $9,000 on cheese - very fancy cheese if we are spending that much."

General manager Gail Connolly said the council orders two to three cheese platters every Monday night for council briefings, workshops and meetings."

Cr Grekas thanked councillors for their passionate debate in defence of cheese platters.

"Nobody has ever said to me that they want councillors to be eating more cheese platters and three-course meals," she said.

"You are saying that it is just small change. It is not.

"Even if we save $30,000 that's six water stations. It's a new picnic table and shelter. It's not going to solve all our financial issues but it's a start."