Coun­cil ex­pense numbers don’t tell the full story

TRAVEL EX­PENSE VARI­A­TIONS EX­PLAINED BY MAYOR

Lethbridge Herald - - FRONT PAGE - Melissa Vil­leneuve LETH­BRIDGE HERALD

Leth­bridge city coun­cil­lor Blaine Hyggen and Mayor Chris Spear­man want to clear the air over coun­cil travel ex­penses.

Their com­ments came in re­sponse to a story posted on­line by a lo­cal ra­dio sta­tion last Thurs­day. The ar­ti­cle states how much each coun­cil­lor and the mayor has spent through their travel ex­pense ac­counts over the past cou­ple years, in­for­ma­tion read­ily avail­able on the City of Leth­bridge web­site.

Travel ex­pense sum­maries are listed for each of the last four years, with a break­down of spend­ing by each coun­cil mem­ber. In the years 2015-2017, each city coun­cil­lor is al­lo­cated an an­nual travel bud­get of $7,000 and a per diem of $3,500. The mayor re­ceives an an­nual $18,000 travel bud­get and a $10,000 per diem bud­get.

Ac­cord­ing to the in­for­ma­tion, some coun­cil­lors have gone over bud­get in some years, while other coun­cil­lors use lit­tle, if any, of their travel bud­get.

Hyggen went over the al­lo­cated amount in three out of the last four years. In 2014, he went $4,140 over his $7,000 bud­get (not in­clud­ing per diems). In 2015, he was over by $2,800 of the $10,500, and this year so far he has gone $4,353 over his bud­get. He is not the only coun­cil­lor to go over the al­lo­cated amount.

Coun. Ryan Parker went over his 2014 bud­get by about $1,800, and in 2016, Coun. Liz Iwaskiw went over by $782.

In con­trast, Coun. Joe Mauro has not spent any of his al­lo­cated bud­get over the past four years. Coun. Rob Miyashiro didn’t use any of his $10,500 al­lo­ca­tion in 2016, and so far this year, Parker has used zero, while Coun. Jeff Coff­man has used only $75.

While Hyggen and Spear­man don’t dis­pute the numbers, look­ing at numbers doesn’t tell the full story. The travel bud­get is a “pot” in which all coun­cil­lors share, with a dol­lar amount al­lo­cated per coun­cil­lor, they ex­plained.

And ev­ery year as a coun­cil, they have not used more than 74 per cent of the over­all an­nual $84,000. Over the past four years, coun­cil has col­lec­tively used $193,243, or about 58 per cent, of its $336,000 travel ex­pense bud­get.

AlI coun­cil travel must re­ceive prior ap­proval from the mayor and City Man­ager. Hyggen fol­lowed this pol­icy with all of his travel, Spear­man con­firmed.

Hyggen says he wishes he didn’t go over his al­lo­cated amount, but he still wouldn’t do any­thing dif­fer­ently.

“I’m not up­set to say that I spent it. I think it was spent in the cor­rect way,” said Hyggen. “I just found that I needed to do some of this travel and ed­u­ca­tion to be able to bet­ter serve the com­mu­nity.”

Herald file photo by Ian Martens

Coun­cil­lors Joe Mauro, Brid­get Mearns, Blaine Hyggen and Ryan Parker take part in an ear­lier city coun­cil meet­ing. Coun­cil­lors have con­trast­ing numbers when it comes to travel ex­penses. @IMarten­sHer­ald

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