What’s a mere $629.55 while councillors wrestle with a $104,450,374 annual budget?
That question and suggestions I was media grandstanding were among comments heard during Jan.30 final budget session as I brought up items like the home-office technology allowance for councillors and the city’s fair-access, subsidy program for low-income families.
My response? It’s an issue of integrity where cuts made to home-office expenses represent a symbolic exercise where councillors can walk the walk and lead by example at a time many seniors living on fixed incomes and families hit hard by layoffs are experiencing financial difficulty.
Every year, the mayor and 10 councillors are each budgeted $4,454 to cover capital and operating expenses for their home offices — a total $48,994 or, if you prefer, more than $195,000 per four-year term. Some councillors spend most of their budgets while others use far less and, this term, I estimate at least $100,000 will be spent on home-office costs by council.
It’s a real eye-opener to see that councillors who crow so much about acting as ferocious watchdogs of taxpayer dollars spend the most when it comes to home-office spending. By law, all remuneration and expenses including home-office and conference spending as well as the number of freebie tickets and passes received by members of council are on record and easily accessed at city hall.
During every budget session since being elected in 2010 I have recommended, with limited success, that council reduce its excessive operating and capital budget for home-office costs which includes purchase of items that include furniture, computers, laptops, tablets BlackBerries and digital cameras.
I also remind councillors we have well-equipped offices at city hall.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, Kitchener’s fair-access cards helped 3,460 seniors and children better afford recreational activities in 2013. And, even though staff did not turn anyone away, the program went $29,469 over budget.
For that reason, at a final budget meeting where we reduced the tax increase to 0.99 per cent, I was pleased to see councillors support my motion that we add $10,000 to the fair-access program.
All but two councillors also approved my second motion that reduced a councillor’s home-office operating expenses by $629.55 a year, down from $3,129.55 to $2,500.
Perhaps a sign we have a municipal election scheduled for this fall.