Council expense numbers don’t tell the full story
TRAVEL EXPENSE VARIATIONS EXPLAINED BY MAYOR
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.”
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