Surrey city staff dispose of all the paperwork associated with councillor travel claims
To claim, or not to claim, that is the question being debated in Surrey this week. A controversy has broken out whether the new system being implemented to compensate councillors for their travel is too cumbersome and bureaucratic.
Last May, the issue of councillor compensation first became news when city staff recommended that politicians receive a monthly $865 stipend to cover their local transportation costs. Her Worship Mayor Dianne Watts is already eligible for an annual $13,000 car allowance and wasn't impacted by these recommendations.
City staff used the following rationale when recommending Council vote in favour of the new transportation allowance:
The City of Surrey provides a monthly car allowance to each member of the senior management team at a flat rate of $865 per month. It is recommended that the flat rate monthly car allowance for each Surrey councillor be set at the same rate as is provided to the city's general managers.
Councillor Tom Gill told the Surrey Leader he preferred any adjustments to politicians pay be effective after the next election. He stated:
In these uncertain (economic) times, I cannot justify this allowance at this time.
With a global meltdown in full swing last May, the initial proposal fell on its face and a new compensation scheme was implemented. Councillors must now keep track of every kilometre they travel and file a claim for reimbursement. They are entitled to a generous 52 cents per kilometre.
The new policy is apparently causing no end of headaches and paperwork for the councillor's staff and one elected official said he's had enough. Bob Bose, a vocal opposition critic on council, said the whole exercise is a waste of time and energy. Here is what he told the Leader:
I’ve told staff I won’t participate. I will not engage in this kind of silly Mickey Mouse exercise to try and generate income that’s going to cost three times as much money to administer than would be generated by council’s compensation.
Bose makes a great point. Why not simply adjust councillors pay and have it become effective after the next election. This way in 2011 voters will have the opportunity to elect their politicians under a new pay scheme which should all but eliminate accusations of politicians padding their own pockets.
As for the Mayor, she says that staff shouldn't be saddled with all this paperwork and individual councillors should keep their own travel log. Sounds simple, but considering Watts doesn't have to keep a travel log herself, it's likely Surrey's councillors won't agree with her position.
Councillor Gill, chair of the city's finance committee, is now proposing that staff review what the baseline is for councillor travel after one year, then simply provide them with a flat rate payout based on that average. You can expect this controversy to continue for sometime yet.