In 2010, the former Board of Control cost taxpayers more than a quarter of a million dollars in wages, benefits and expenses. Where will that money go?
When I ran for Board of Control in 2006, eliminating that archaic institution was high on my list of priorities. Not because I thought doing so would save a lot of money in direct expenses, but because I believed that its demise would facilitate smoother and more transparent decision-making.
So far as far as I can see that has been the case. The budget was debated and a unanimous support for the final recommendation achieved in record time and with minimal rancour. That means that in addition to saving the time of the councillors, staff and administration can devote themselves to planning and delivering excellent programs for the residents of London. It also allowed members of the public to speak directly to the decision-making council rather than having their delegations filtered by the Board of Control.
But there is no doubt that some of the voters were thinking that there should be some direct savings too.
In 2010, the compensation and expenses, not including mileage costs, of controllers was just under $250,000. Adding in the costs of mileage would have put that well over a quarter of a million dollars.
In the budget submitted to council, the total reduction from 2010 for council services was $26,000 leaving at least $225,000 surplus. When council was casting about looking for a way to find a means of reducing the overall budget by half a million bucks, Ward 6 Councillor Nancy Branscombe suggested cutting an extra $50,000 from the savings generated by the elimination of Board of Control. That recommendation received almost unanimous support.
So that leaves the council with an extra $175,000. Where will that money go?
In preparing the budget, administration left room to accommodate the recommendations of the Governance Task Force and the Council Compensation Review Task Force.
The latter recommended no increases for the councillors in their stipends other than the cost of living.
The Governance Task Force recommended additional administrative support and a community engagement budget separate from the current expense account of $7,000. Those changes were supported by the past council.
But that was before the commitment to no tax increase, and before tenants of London Housing were asked to forego a few flowers at their doorsteps or vegetables in their backyards.
A few weeks ago, Ward 9 Councillor Dale Henderson stated that he would be recommending during the budget discussions that each councillor receive an additional $10,000 for workload support. He didn’t do that last week. Does that mean it is off the table? Or is it simply a timing issue?
As well, Ward 4 Councillor Steve Orser complained about the inadequacy of the “trinkets and trash” (a.k.a. expense) account so what about a little extra money for fridge magnets for his constituents? Ward 1 Councillor Bud Polhill moaned about how much trouble it is to have to actually calculate and detail mileage, why not just get a flat rate that doesn’t have to be justified or supported?
Apparently, a slimmed down council hasn’t produced a smaller appetite.
How many treats will $175,000 buy?
I reviewed my notes from the budget meeting on Wednesday, February 16th. It appears that Councillor Baechler made a motion to close the Glanworth Library, and to accept offered cuts by Tourism London and the Health Unit. Somehow, when the items went to a vote, the Health Unit was replaced by the London and Middlesex Housing Corporation and their signage and garden programs got the axe. Let’s hope that can be corrected somehow.