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Expenses on council to-do list before November election

Maple Ridge council will be reviewing their expense policy this year. - The News/Files
Maple Ridge council will be reviewing their expense policy this year.
— image credit: The News/Files

Maple Ridge council is going to talk perks and expenses before the present term ends and politicians hit the campaign trail in the November election.

Staff will give their ideas on which expenses that councillors can claim and bring them to a committee of the whole meeting.

"I hope that it would happen during this council so that we could deal with before we passed it back to the next council," Coun. Cheryl Ashlie said at Tuesday's meeting.

Ashlie asked for the review after Coun. Corisa Bell claimed a $250 expense for a ticket in November to attend the “Meadowridge by Moonlight” fundraiser for Meadowridge School, an independent institution that her eight-year-old daughter attends.

Bell said the event helped improve the district's relations with Meadowridge and that the school draws people and money to the area.

She supports the review and said she'd like the policy to include a section on accountabilty to insure there's recourse against councillors who exceed their spending limits. The CivicInfo BC website shows the practices in other municipalities, she added.

"It's my suggestion that we do have the conversation at committee of the whole that way it's recorded. It's able to be viewed by the public as to exactly how that conversation took place."

Councillors can spend $5,000 yearly to attend training, conferences or networking events. The mayor's yearly limit is $6,500.

Bell however in 2013 exceeded that limit by spending $8,199 while Coun. Al Hogarth also went over, claiming $5,962.

In the year previous, 2012, Mayor Ernie Daykin exceeded his yearly expense allocation by $338 while Bell's was also over by $1,681.

Maple Ridge just began posting councillor's monthly expenses online.

Ashlie though pointed out that council's practice is to consider the expenses over the entire three years of a council term, meaning councillors can spend up to $15,000 during their mandate.

She'd like any new policy to include that practice and to tighten up clauses so councillors can't claim for networking events to which they're personally connected.

"I'm clearly of the view that using it for a fundraising event that specifically serves your family and doesn't serve the broader public … I absolutely want the language tightened up.

"We should clean it up. We should fix that."

Ashlie is not saying councillors shouldn't attend networking events but common sense says as a parent at a school event you should pay for your own ticket.

She added if it has to be spelled out, do not use money for these types of things, she'd happy to put in those words.

Bell though on her website, says she attended the event as a councillor. The Meadowridge gala invitations were given to all councillors and she said she was never told she shouldn’t attend. And she questioned whether that means she shouldn't attend other organizations' events for which she volunteers.

Coun. Mike Morden wanted the discussion to include council wages.

"I do support the review in policy.

"There are some interelationships between the two."

In the City of Pitt Meadows, council as a group manages their expenses within a total budget of $23,000 per year, compared to $37,500 for Maple Ridge.

The former amount is to be used to pay Pitt Meadows councillors' expenses to attend Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Union of B.C. Municipalities conventions and the Ridge Meadows Hospital Foundation Gala.

However, "often the mayor and councillors attend charitable events and do not seek reimbursement," said Pitt Meadows finance director Mark Roberts.

The five Maple Ridge councillors, including Ashlie, who attended last October's Ridge Meadows Hospital Foundation gala – a fundraiser for a public institution – claimed the $175 ticket as an expense.

 

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