Line-by-line scrutiny of the expenses at Pitt Meadows City Hall is under way – the legacy of tax crusader Tom Murray.
The late Murray, whose high profile zero tax petition led to a budget with no increase for the present fiscal year, also pushed city hall for details on spending.
The city files its annual statement of financial information, in which every municipality lists all expenditures over $25,000. Murray – died from cancer in December 2013 at the age of 73 – argued that the public should be able to see all expenditures – even those under $25,000.
“Tom saw what the increase in taxes was going to be, and went ballistic,” remembers Coun. Mike Stark.
Stark joined Murray as arguably the city’s most avid council watchers at that time.
City staff had recommended increases totaling 20 per cent over five years.
Eventually, after using the Freedom of Information Act and paying hundreds of dollars in fees, Murray got the full list of expenditures. Members of the council of the day also obtained copies for the first time, and asked questions of city hall staff.
Now on council for his first term, Stark asked for the 2014 list of expenditures under $25,000, for councillors to scrutinize.
“That’s one of the reasons I ran for council – for more transparency with this stuff,” said Stark.
He has read the list, which is 23 pages long, and has approximately 1,000 line items. They range from as low as $4 for a TransLink fare purchase, to $21,000 to Western Weed Control.
“I don’t think there’s anything untoward, but I can ask for some clarification,” said Stark.
“It’s $2.4 million in total. That’s a significant number, and we’re just doing our due diligence.”
Having seen the list for the first time last year, council will now fit a review of all expenditures into the budget process.
Coun. Janice Elkerton said the public expects this level of responsibility from councillors today, and accountability is higher than ever.
Councillors will be able to ask what service a company provided, or whether services that the city has contracted would be more affordable by hiring staff, she said.
Each councillor will submit questions for staff, to be answered at a later date.
Elkerton has also asked staff to provide councillors with information about parks and recreation staff. She would like an analysis of their salary and benefits, and increases.
She asked for data from January 2012 to present, including any increases which have been committed but not yet implemented. She wants the name of each staff, their position, and base salary percentage increase in each category year-over-year, and dollar increase in each category year over year.
Elkerton heard numerous complaints about wage increases at Maple Ridge city hall.
The two cities share parks and recreation staff and expenses.
“The bottom line is: what’s fair to taxpayers, when they’re not getting any salary increases?”