Council moves to adopt interim expense policy
There’s still some fine-tuning to be done, but Niagara Region councillors are facing new constraints when it comes to their spending habits.
“Congratulations, we have an expense policy in place — our first ever,” said Niagara chairman Alan Caslin, after councillors voted unanimously in favour of the new policy.
But while urging councillors to support it earlier during the meeting, Caslin called some of the expenses being filed by councillors “egregious,” adding they cannot be permitted to continue.
Regional council has been under fire regarding excessive expenses claims, ranging from $44,000 claimed by Coun. Andy Petrowski to thousands claimed by Fort Erie Coun. Sandy Annunziata for trips to Toronto to appear on a talk-radio program.
St. Catharines resident Ed Smith appeared as a delegate at the start of the meeting, chastising councillors saying “once the fact of these expenditures became public, there had not been any sign of contrition or remorse expressed.”
And St. Catharines Coun. Brian Heit said he was “somewhat surprised when I saw these huge expenses that were incurred” particularly through cellphone and IPad use, after he said he filed freedom of information requests to obtain the information.
Without a policy in place for the approval of councillor expenses, acting corporate services commissioner Jason Burgess said expense such as those filed by Petrowski requests were instead “processed” before the funds were reimbursed.
Although several councillors said regional staff should be working to recover court costs from Petrowski, Burgess said without the policy in place Petrowski could just again charge those fees back to the Niagara Region.
Councillor expenses will also be posted on the region’s website dating back to 2015, although Port Colborne Regional Coun. David Barrick had hoped to post expenses dating back to 1997.
He called it “shameful and hypocritical” to only provide expenses to 2015.
“What is there to hide beyond 2015?” he asked. “It’s ridiculous.”
The councillor expense policy will be further refined during upcoming corporate service committee meetings.