Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Councillors' spending OK, budget confirms

But auditor says donations should be halted

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All Winnipeg city councillors came within their individual budgets and all spending has been accounted for, according to the annual budget.

But the city's auditor says that doesn't mean spending can't be trimmed.

HOW CITY COUNCILLORS SPENT YOUR MONEY IN 2012

Councillors were each given $74,936 to spend on items including staff, travel, donations and office supplies.

Coun. Paula Havixbeck wins the thriftiest-councillor award. She returned $9,129.46 to city coffers. Second place goes to Coun. Jeff Browaty, who left $8,555.06 unspent.

Coun. Scott Fielding wins the biggest-spender award. He had only $41.81 left in his account. Coun. John Orlikow came second with $144.49 left over.

How do you treat your staff? Coun. Harvey Smith, at $59,549.08, pays the most for his assistant while Havixbeck, at $30,684.80, paid the least.

Lowest on transportation? One was a consultant, the other a former member of the Winnipeg Jets, but when it comes to transportation both Coun. John Orlikow, at $26.67 for a parking-meter voucher, and Coun. Thomas Steen, at $34.99 for a parking-meter voucher, aren't high flyers.

Who pays most on travel and conferences? Havixbeck at $3,243.57.

Biggest and lowest advertisers? Coun. Dan Vandal spent $15, 217.33 while Coun. Jenny Gerbasi paid only $2,396.

Who spends most on a community office? $18,452.54 by Coun. Devi Sharma, but it's an easy category to win. She is the only one who funds an office in the community.

Brian Whiteside, the city's auditor, said Friday he is recommending city councillors scrap the practice of handing out donations to groups and charities.

"It's out of step with what is being done in other jurisdictions," Whiteside said.

The audit department presented a report at this week's civic governance committee that showed individual federal and provincial politicians do not get funding to hand out donations and sponsorships.

As well, the department looked at seven other Canadian cities and found only Ottawa allows politicians to give donations and sponsorships, but even that city is looking at capping donations to 3.5 per cent of a councillor's budget.

After hearing from the auditor, the governance committee voted to accept the report as information and send it to next week's executive policy committee meeting.

Councillors have always been able to hand out donations to charities and non-profit organizations -- usually in their own wards -- but this year, shortly after city council voted themselves a $40,000 increase to each of their ward budgets, three donations raised some eyebrows.

Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) was given permission by the governance committee to give a $28,000 donation to Save Our Seine in February.

A month later, Coun. Dan Vandal (St. Boniface) received permission to give $10,000 to the St. Boniface Museum and $10,000 to La Maison Gabrielle Roy.

Scott Henning, vice-president of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said smaller donations of a few hundred dollars would be OK, but not thousands.

"Twenty or $30,000 I would consider a major grant," Henning said.

"It means 10 or 12 households had their taxes go to fund a councillor's pet project and that's not appropriate. That's not why people pay property taxes.

"I'm glad the auditor pointed it out."

Coun. Grant Nordman (St. Charles) said the increased ward allowance was really intended to go to increases in salaries for councillor assistants, as well as policy research and communication, not for more and higher donations.

"This will all be taken in by the review we will do before the next election in October 2014," Nordman said.

"I don't agree with those donations. Save Our Seine was not on our radar (when ward increase was approved)."

But Vandal said he is glad councillors have the ability to spend their ward allowances on different items.

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"I like the fact we have more flexibility as long as the money is going to good non-profit organizations," he said.

"If the expense is over $3,000, the governance committee has to approve it."

Coun. Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre) said he is able to help organizations in his ward with his donations.

"I only give to things that affect my ward," Smith said. "I recently gave to a Portuguese organization on north Main Street, but that's because I have a lot of Portuguese people in my ward. I want to arrange block parties because I think they make the neighbourhood safer, so I'm even going to pay for the closing of the street and for extra events."

Meanwhile, Whiteside said this year's audit, the first after city councillors decided to post their expenses online each month, was uneventful.

"Everybody stayed within the limits... when you start being transparent, things change."

Nordman said there's now only one politician at city hall who doesn't have their expenses audited.

"I don't want to throw the mayor under the bus, but 15 city councillors have been audited. The mayor's expenses have never been audited."

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 6, 2013 A11

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