Tax money spent on booze, barbecues
Minister to review Carbonear man’s complaint
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.
“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.
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.
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.