Tax money spent on booze, bar­be­cues

Min­is­ter to re­view Carbonear man’s com­plaint

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVE BARTLETT

A Carbonear man claims doc­u­ments ob­tained from the town show coun­cil poured al­most $ 15,000 of tax­pay­ers’ money - be­tween 2006 and 2008 - into par­ties and other perks for staff. Ross Ry­der wrote a let­ter to

The Com­pass the com­mu­nity news­pa­per of Trin­ity and Con­cep­tion Bays, de­tail­ing the in­for­ma­tion he found.

He also for­warded the in­for­ma­tion to Dianne Whalen, ask­ing the Min­is­ter of Mu­nic­i­pal Af­fairs to launch “ an in-depth in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the spending ac­tiv­i­ties of the tax­pay­ers’ monies.”

Whalen con­firmed last Thurs­day June 25 she’s re­ceived the let­ter, but has yet to re­view it.

“ I am go­ing to re­view the ma­te­rial he has sent in to the depart­ment and I’ll... de­cide from there what steps will be taken, if any,” the min­is­ter told The Tele­gram.

Whalen did say an of­fi­cial from her depart­ment has spo­ken to Ry­der about his con­cerns.

The con­cerned ci­ti­zen also wants the min­is­ter to sack the cur­rent coun­cil, and the town’s ad­min­is­tra­tor.

In his let­ter, Ry­der also item­izes where the money has been spent, in­clud­ing bar­be­cues and staff par­ties, taxi rides home from th­ese func­tions and, most im­por­tantly, al­co­hol.

“ The spending of tax­pay­ers’ dol­lars on booze is taboo,” reads the let­ter.

But ac­cord­ing to the depart­ment, there are no rules, which pro­hibit a coun­cil from spending money on al­co­hol.

Ry­der sug­gests the money spent on th­ese so­cial func­tions could “ fill a lot of pot­holes in the town of Carbonear.”

He also ques­tions one of­fi­cial’s use of a town ve­hi­cle for per­sonal use as well as the town’s bulk pur­chase of bot­tled wa­ter for staff - “is there a prob­lem with the town’s drink­ing wa­ter?” he asks.

Whalen again noted she had yet to read Ry­der’s let­ter, but said coun­cils “ make up their minds about how they’re go­ing to spend their money.”

And she said coun­cils work hard for their com­mu­ni­ties.

“ It’s easy some­times to be on the out­side looking in and com­plain­ing,” Whalen con­tin­ued. “ It’s very easy to crit­i­cize, but it’s not easy find­ing so­lu­tions.”

Whalen made the com­ments af­ter launch­ing a new cam­paign to con­vince more peo­ple to run for mu­nic­i­pal of­fice when elec­tions are held this fall.

She sug­gested peo­ple who take is­sue with the way their

Sug­gest­ing some busi­nesses may rec­og­nize their staff by pro­vid­ing bonuses etc., Slade noted, “the town has tra­di­tion­ally pro­vided a Christ­mas so­cial or a sum­mer bar­be­cue.”

He also wanted to point out that: do­na­tions ( have been) re­ceived over the years from var­i­ous sup­pli­ers to­wards th­ese func­tions, which are not re­flected in the ex­penses listed in The

Com­pass ar­ti­cle (let­ter).” In his cor­re­spon­dence, Ry­der claimed he knew, “a num­ber of tax­pay­ers re­ceived cut­off no­tices be­cause they could not af­ford to pay their taxes on their lim­ited in­comes.”

Mayor Slade last week ve­he­mently de­nied that charge.

Ab­so­lutely false

“The state­ment in­di­cat­ing a num­ber of tax­pay­ers re­ceived cut­off no­tices for ar­rears of $2 and $3 is false, ab­so­lutely false,” Slade said.

In fact since he has been on coun­cil, the mayor as­serted, “a res­i­dent has never had their wa­ter dis­con­tin­ued for ar­rears of taxes for such min­i­mal amounts.”

In his let­ter, Ry­der also talked about coun­cil­lors’ re­mu­ner­a­tion, which cur­rently sees coun­cilors re­ceive $8,082.50, an in­crease over what they were tak­ing home last year.

Mayor Slade, who takes home $ 11,895 in re­mu­ner­a­tion, ex­plained, “the to­tal in­crease in coun­cilor re­mu­ner­a­tion over the last ten years equates to less than two per cent per year. The Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties Act out­lines the amount of re­mu­ner­a­tion coun­cilors are en­ti­tled to, and the Carbonear coun­cil cur­rently bud­gets less than that en­ti­tle­ment.

Hefty salaries

The let­ter writer also men­tioned the “hefty salaries” of the town’s hired help, in­clud­ing more than $68,000 for the town ad­min­is­tra­tor, and $ 53,000 for the di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tions and pub­lic works, plus an an­nual on call bonus of $8,360 plus the perk of a town ve­hi­cle.

In de­fense of those salaries, Mayor Slade said: “For Carbonear to have qual­i­fied and knowl­edge­able staff, the town must pay a rea­son­able rate of pay.”

In 2007, coun­cil com­mis­sioned a hu­man re­sources con­sul­tant to re­view man­age­ment salaries of towns of com­pa­ra­ble size to Carbonear.

At that time coun­cil ad­justed salaries in ac­cor­dance with the in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by the con­sul­tant, Slade re­called. “ The town... does its best to pro­vide a fair and rea­son­able wage to all our staff,” he con­cluded.

While Ry­der said he did not have a prob­lem with any or­ga­ni­za­tion hav­ing so­cial func­tions, he does have a prob­lem when it is done at the ex­pense of the tax­pay­ers.

“All of th­ese in­di­vid­u­als earn hefty salaries with the town and they should be con­tribut­ing their own monies into a so­cial fund for th­ese events.”

But Mayor Slade ar­gues, “ re­cent coun­cils have been fis­cally re­spon­si­ble to the tax­pay­ers of Carbonear.

For ex­am­ple, less then 10 years ago the town had a deficit of $ 1.3 mil­lion

By 2008, coun­cil had turned that around to a $ 143,000 sur­plus by “ be­ing fis­cally re­spon­si­ble.”

The fi­nan­cial state­ments adopted at last week’s coun­cil meet­ing showed a cur­rent deficit of less than $450,000.

“ Work­ing with our staff,” the mayor main­tained,“coun­cil has been suc­cess­ful in re­duc­ing the deficit sub­stan­tially, at the same time con­tin­u­ing to up­grade and im­prove de­te­ri­o­rat­ing in­fra­struc­ture with min­i­mal in­creases in taxes.”

Re­mind­ing cit­i­zens that, “ 10 years ago ( 1999), the mill rate was 9.5 mills,” he noted the mill rate this year is 9.75 mills. Just last year the mill rate was a quar­ter of a mill lower than the 1999 rate.”

The suc­cess of the town and the growth and pros­per­ity achieved in re­cent years has al­lowed prop­erty val­ues to in­crease to the ben­e­fit of res­i­dents and busi­nesses, the mayor con­cluded.

Con­fi­dent

Mayor Slade is the only mem­ber of coun­cil who has made pub­lic the fact he fully in­tends to seek re-elec­tion in the Septem­ber mu­nic­i­pal gen­eral elec­tion. He first made his in­ten­tions known in a Com­pass in­ter­view on the town’s 2009 bud­get in Jan­uary of this year.

If any of the other coun­cilors are con­sid­er­ing an­other run in Septem­ber, Ross Ry­der would like Carbonear vot­ers to re­mem­ber the con­tents of his let­ter be­fore cast­ing their bal­lots.

But if the vot­ers can wait un­til Septem­ber, Ry­der can’t wait any longer, and has writ­ten Mu­nic­i­pal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Dianne Whalen ask­ing her to in­ves­ti­gate the spending prac­tices of the cur­rent coun­cil and re­move both the coun­cil and town ad­min­is­tra­tor from their po­si­tions.

If Mayor Slade was con­cerned about any im­pact Ry­der’s let­ter may have on his chances for re-elec­tion, he showed no signs of it last week.

Coun­cil­lor Gla­dys Mercer, who chairs the town’s Beau­ti­fi­ca­tion Com­mit­tee, chal­lenged each mem­ber of coun­cil to pur­chase a crabap­ple tree, which are to be planted along the town’s board­walk, cre­at­ing a “ board­walk of mem­o­ries.” All coun­cilors and the mayor agreed to pay $ 50 each for the trees.

Coun. Mercer said: “ we’ll erect a plaque with the names of the peo­ple who do­nated trees... in case we don’t get re­elected, at least there’ll be some­thing there to re­mem­ber us by.”

Ooz­ing con­fi­dence, Mayor Slade re­sponded:“ Oh don’t you worry, Coun­cil­lor Mercer, we’ll all be re-elected in Septem­ber.

In the last mu­nic­i­pal gen­eral elec­tions in 2005, Carbonear at­tracted 30 candidates for coun­cil, in­clud­ing three for mayor - the high­est num­ber for any town in New­found­land and Labrador, and the high­est turnout in the then 57-year his­tory of the town in­cor­po­rated in 1948.

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