BUDGET BLOW: Tweed Shire Council is requesting the legal budget be increased to cover on-going costs.
BUDGET BLOW: Tweed Shire Council is requesting the legal budget be increased to cover on-going costs. Barry Leddicoat

Council still overspending on courtroom defences

THE council's ongoing legal bills are quickly adding up, with staff asking for more than $500,000 to cover costs to defend about 20 decisions in court.

The latest budget report revealed the council spent $609,658 in legal services from October 1 to December31, with the total amount paid from July 1 to December 31 equalling $778,630.

At last month's council meeting, staff reported the current budget allocation of $280,695 for development assessment legal expenses would need to be increased by $550,000 to fund the shortfall for committed and future legal matters.

While councillors unanimously adopted changes to the budget to recalculate funds from increased pensioner rebates, rate revenue and workers' compensation savings to cover the costs, councillor James Owen said he was disappointed the council was forced to continue to "waste money” on legal matters that could be avoided.

"The problem I have is when you get irrefutable advice and very sound legal advice (from staff) that says if you take this to the Land and Environment Court you are very likely to lose the case,” Cr Owen said.

But Mayor Katie Milne said council was only trying to protect the community from "developers (who) often push the limits of planning controls”.

"There is one developer in the Tweed for instance that has submitted about eight applications for virtually the same development plan and it costs us and the community every time,” Cr Milne said.

Councillor Chris Cherry said the legal costs didn't affect the overall budget too much.

"Putting the cost into perspective, legal costs of $1million is still less than 0.4per cent of council's income and considering the size of the organisation and the matters that we deal with, this is still a very small percentage of our income and expenditure,” Cr Cherry said.

About $1million was spent on legal services in the Land and Environment Court last year and $400,000 was allocated in the budget.