The city auditor has stamped his approval on the spending and expenses of Winnipeg's 15 councillors, but added a rider to the opinion -- ward allowances, he said, should not be used by councillors for donations to community groups. City council must stop the use of tax dollars to support city councillors' pet charities.
The auditor's report was anticipated, called specifically to review the way city councillors were spending their beefed-up ward allowances. The hike to those accounts was controversial, passed earlier this year in the same budget that cut city grants to numerous community groups -- a necessity in tough economic times, it was said.
Councillors have always dished out donations to their favourite charities and local groups from their community incentive funds, which are supposed to fund projects, not operational costs. The hike to the ward allowances put a lot more money in play, increasing councillors' ward allowances to $114,000 from $75,000. Some councillors said the hike was excessive and poorly timed (the budget also increased property taxes by almost four per cent).
Council's governance committee insisted the additional $40,000 was to improve salaries to ward assistants, and help pay for better communication and research, but some figured the money would be better used by charities. Coun. Dan Vandal gave $10,000 each to two St. Boniface museums. Coun. Brian Mayes sent Save Our Seine $28,000 to help keep the group operating.
The donations made clear that there is too much discretion in the rules for the ward allowances. The Canadian Taxpayers Foundation believes small donations are reasonable, but larger ones put too great a burden on property owners.
The fact is that making public money available for donations effectively allows politicians to ingratiate themselves to constituents and groups with tax dollars. That's a bad idea. City council should never have approved the excessive hike to ward allowances. Now it must end the ability of councillors to donate it to pet causes.