By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express
There was displeasure among some members as the city’s finance committee has recommended bundling councillor expenses for all four years of their term.
It all began when Ward 3 city and regional councillor Bob Chapman put forth a motion to use the first of three options given to the committee by staff: maintaining the status quo.
This would have kept annual expense budgets at $1,500 for each local councillor, while allotting $500 for regional councillors.
However, Ward 5 city and regional councillor Brian Nicholson was quick to denounce the motion, as he believes it would only block council’s access to constituents.
He noted it gives half of council $1,500, and the other half $500 due to what he calls a “misguided belief” Durham Region will make up the remaining funds for regional councillors.
However, he pointed out regional expenses can only be used for conferences and travel.
Nicholson said the current expense levels do not allow councillors to properly communicate with their constituents.
Mayor Dan Carter was initially in favour of maintaining the status quo.
“I just think it’s the right way to do it,” he said, adding he thinks councillors are fairly compensated.
Nicholson was quick to note the mayor received $8,000 in expenses last year.
The mayor countered by stating he usually pays for such expenses out of his own pocket.
Ward 4 city councillor Derek Giberson, who was sitting in on the meeting, said he believes the amount councillors are given is “embarrassingly low.”
He explained there are community organizations he’s been involved with in the past, as well as today, which put more money into similar expenditures than city council. He added Oshawa provides the lowest amount of all five urban municipalities in Durham Region.
He also said he doesn’t support the second option of giving all councillors $1,000 in expenses for the year, as regional councillors have another resource to tap into.
Giberson also pointed out newer councillors who are in their first term need to use the expenses to go to events to ingrain themselves in the role, adding it’s a steep learning curve for these new councillors.
“The learning that somebody gets from [these events] is to the benefit of the municipality,” he said.
Ward 1 city councillor Rosemary McConkey chimed in, noting she also pays for most expenses out of her own pocket like Carter. She added she agrees with a little of what each councillor had said to that point.
McConkey noted she was in support of option two, as she believes it to be more equitable to give regional and city councillors the same amount.
Nicholson reinforced his belief that the amount given to each councillor limits their ability to communicate with their constituents, adding it shows a lack of interest in doing so from city council.
“I don’t appreciate members of council limiting my ability to speak to constituents,” he said, adding he has never had anyone tell him they want him to keep information from them, only the opposite.
When it became clear the first two options weren’t going to work, Ward 5 city councillor and finance committee chair John Gray suggested bundling expenses together for the whole term, and retroactively giving councillors $4,000 to use over four years, as opposed to the yearly allocation.
McConkey then put forward a motion to the second option, but amend it so instead of $1,000 every year, they will get $4,000 beginning with the 2019 budget.
The only hold out was Chapman, who continue his support for option one. The expense policy will now head to city council for approval.