Friday, October 8, 2010

How Does Council Spend Our Money? I am Surprised!

You know that is a very good question and I guess the simple answer is to look at the work they do around town with regards to roads, public infrastructure, soccer fields, parks etc. I guess many people never give a second thought to how the funds are allocated once the budget is passed and the money starts flowing, basically we put our trust in council to spend our money wisely.

Recently I was contacted by a reader of my website and they informed me that on September 17, 2010 there was a retirement party held for a town employee at the Belle Vista. The person had several questions related to the party with regards to how it was paid for and if this is a legitimate expenditure for council to make with tax payers dollars.

Well to say the least my interest was peaked and I decided to do some digging around and spoke to many people who knew about the party and they were equally as concerned as I was. After getting these opinions I decided to contact council and the town to get a definitive answer on the subject.

I received word back from the Deputy Mayor Geoff Gallant that he had passed on my inquiry to the proper people in the town office to see if I could be provided with an answer. I appreciate the manner in which he responded and have always found him forthcoming and helpful as he was in this case. 

On a side note he also gave me some advise that I would pass on to everyone that when you want to get official information from council it is better to write council so that inquiries can be directed to the proper channels. I think this is fair considering that many times I write only one or two members of council to get information and that may be an unfair burden. I would like to thank Geoff for this advice.

Anyway back to the matter at hand, the retirement party for a town employee. Basically I went to council and asked them this 
I heard a rumour that there was a big party at the Belle Vista with a sit down meal and a free bar and the retiree also received a $350 gift certificate for the Keg. Now the person I heard this from is very reliable and I have no reason not to believe them. I have no problem with throwing a party for an employee however I would like to know if the town paid for it and how much did it cost?
After about a week or so I received an email from the CAO of the town with this reply.
The event held on September 17, 2010 was a retirement dinner to honour and recognize an employee’s years of service to the residents of Torbay. This was a budgeted item for 2010 – under public relations.  The 2010 budget is public information and  is available for your review on the town’s website or a print copy can be made available upon request.   The Town has held similar functions in the past upon am employee’s retirement.

I would like to clarify that staff socials are not part of the main operating budget – such an expenditure is covered by monies staff collect through recycling efforts
I was conflicted after receiving this response because on the one hand I was happy that they got back to me relatively quickly but while I was reading it by blood began to boil. A budgeted item? Public Relations? You have got to be kidding me. Every year we all have to write a big fat check to the Town of Torbay for our municipal taxes and over the past few years that check has gotten bigger and bigger. When we write those checks we are putting our trust in council that they are going to use that money wisely for the benefit of all residents of Torbay. Can someone please tell me how having a big sit down retirement dinner for a town employee serves the tax payers of this town?

I have nothing against honoring employees of the town who have dedicated years of their lives in service of the residents but please don't do it on our dime. What drives me even more nuts is the fact that council and staff had the foresight to put it in the budget (hidden under public relations in my opinion) but they don't have the common sense to realize that this is a slap in the face to every tax payer in Torbay, who scrape and save to be able to pay that big fat council bill that comes out each year.

I would bet that there are an awful lot of people in Torbay who couldn't afford to go out to a fancy meal and have to clip coupons or rely on the food bank to supplement their groceries. I don't have to bet on it because I know some of them, not all people in Torbay have $300,000 and higher homes and make $100,000 a year. How many parents in Torbay are grateful for the School Lunch and Breakfast Programs at the school because they can't afford to provide their kids with a healthy meal? Yet they are expected to pay their municipal taxes to the town and then watch employees and friends of a retiring town employee go out and have a time on their hard earned money.

Another aspect of that response that made me a little sick was this 
The Town has held similar functions in the past upon am employee’s retirement.
So just how long has the town been squandering our tax dollars on retirement parties and what else do they use that so called public relations budget on. I don't even know how anyone over in that council office can look at people who pay their salaries, yes I mean the tax payers in case they forgot, with a straight face and say that these types of functions are in any way public relations and certainly not value for tax payers dollars.

I have worked in both private and public sector and I can guarantee you that when I had coworkers within the government that retired they didn't get a party paid for by the tax payer. If they had anything it may have a been a lunch or a supper with their coworkers that was paid for by the employees. You would be fired if you used tax payer dollars for personal reasons.

I don't expect the town to never make a mistake or go over budget on an expenditure, those things happen. However I do expect them to treat tax payers dollars with the utmost respect and never spend our money in a way that undermines the trust we need to have in our elected officials and the people employed by our town.

I have put a subsequent request to council asking for a full detailing of that $9000 public relations budget, what it is spent on and exactly how much that retirement party cost. I will also be requesting to council that they end this practice immediately of using tax payers dollars to pay for these types of functions in the future.

17 comments:

  1. I agree with you, Craig. Any person retiring from the private or public sector generally has a gift or lunch paid through the contributions of the other attendees. And there is no way, that the attendees themselves should get a free meal. If you care for the retiring person enough to attend the function, then you should pay for his meal AND FOR YOUR OWN.

    Anne

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  2. Maybe they can spend the money on getting some clean water pumping back into the houses again. How can they have no idea when the Boil Order will be over? Unless it won't be fixed for months?

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  3. It’s a little different here in Paradise, Craig. Most of us would not only okay, but would donate to, a party if a certain mayor –err - employee decided to retire.

    Kidding aside, welcome to the world of municipal politics – where the people wasting your money and breaking campaign promises are your neighbours and not some faceless suits in Ottawa. It never ceases to amaze me how people - with good intentions - decide to run for public office, but suddenly change their tune once voted in. Not all mind you, but too many. It’s a big problem here in Paradise.

    But I digress. I agree with you – when an employee retires, governments on any level, should not subsidize any party. Where I work, we have a social committee for these things. The town of Torbay should as well.

    I’d be interested to see where that $9000 goes for “public relations”. It has to have the approval of council. That amount of money wouldn’t begin to cover the PR mess here in Paradise “The Fastest Growing Town in Atlantic Canada”. Our new motto could be, “Arena Free Since the Beginning of Time.”

    I’ll have to inquire about the Town of Paradise’s public relations budget. And I’ll be sure to put it in writing.

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  4. Paradise had a drive-In movies back in the day. Thats close to a Arena

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  5. Not a resident of Torbay but noticed your blog related post on Facebook. You should be commended for your concern, inquiry, & the actions you have taken. Perhaps you should run for council. Keep up the good work!

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  6. Any reason why town functions are not held in the town...at least they would be putting the money back into our community. It is hard to promote the community when the town doesn't even see fit to hold their functions in the town of torbay!

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  7. YOUR BUDGET LINK IS NOT WORKING AND WHEN I WENT TO THE TOWN OF TORBAY LINK THE BUDGET DOES NOT MENTION PUBLIC RELATIONS AT ALL?? ALSO ARE THE XMAS PARTIES PAID FOR BY TOWN FUNDS ALSO? CAN WE FIND OUT HOW MUCH THESE PARTIES ARE COSTING US? I THINK I HEARD IT MENTION AT ONE TIME THAT THE COUNCIL ALSO PAY FOR TAXI'S FOR THEIR STAFF AFTER THEIR XMAS PARTY, DON'T KNOW IF THIS IS TRUE OR NOT!

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  8. the budget link is working for me, if you would liek the entire document I could email it to you.

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  9. no that ok, i just thought that the council had taken the budget off their web site when I couldn't access your link...I just tried again and the link is still not working for me all of your other links are working fine. No need to send the budget I did read it from the town's website but was confused with where they were hiding the money for parties, I couldn't find it?

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  10. The budget link on the town website is working, however the budget document they have there is a brief summary, it is not the full document that I have that breaks down the expenditures. I think the one I have is 30 or more pages.

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  11. Kris DrodgeOctober 09, 2010

    Craig,

    Excellent to see that there's some good public criticism of the way our town spends money. I have read your lastest blog regarding the retirement party and I have some additional points to make. As a life long resident of Torbay, I believe that our town has been managed fairly well over the years. There will always be things to argue over, but overall our town is one of the most efficient on the East Coast. I do believe that this is mostly due to the work of the council employees, not the elected council. I would also like to say that most of us deal with the town council when we have problems, so you can imagine the work environment for an employee of the council who has to deal with this day in and day out - trying to help that person with their issue. For an employee of that council who has probably spent most of their career working with the public and their concerns, I have to say that giving that person a farewell party is not out of bounds. In fact I would say that it is the town's responsibility to do so. However, I would of liked to of heard that it was held within our town boundaries, such as at the Kinsmen Center or one of the church centers. I know that it is sometimes fairly easy to judge elected people for their decisions, but we have to remember that they are also trying to be good citizens and employers as well.

    Keep up the good blogs though, they are really informative.

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  12. I work for the federal government and all of our retirement parties are paid for out of the staff fund that each employee contributes to each pay day. For those of you out there that think the federal government should spend hundreds of dollars for each employee that retires please show your support on this blog, perhaps we can make it an election issue!!

    I understand that this party was not only for town employees it was also for whoever the retiring employee wanted to invite. This freebee came with a sit down meal and free wine on al the tables!!

    I in no way feel that the retiring employee did anything wrong but I do feel that it is wrong for the council to pay for this sort of thing and then to go out side of our community to do it. If you are wasting our money you could at least give the business to the business owners of torbay.

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  13. I heard that taxi's were paid for also and apparently this is a common practice for the town when they have parties they pay for taxi ride home

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  14. Kris, I am not trying to justify or vilify the work that employees of the town do. On the contrary I think they do a great job and this is evident by the condition our town is in.

    I have no problem with employees being honored or recognized but I am against using public funds for this type of event.

    We are not talking about a private business here that operates for a profit and has a revenue stream. A municipality only has one stream of revenue and that is tax dollars whether they are directly paid by our property taxes or indirectly through other mean.

    People will say that the town generates revenues through facilities like the Jack Byrne Arena or the Kinsmen Center but I would counter that the revenue they generate is the towns which in turn is the tax payers.

    Everywhere we look towns all around the North East Avalon are starting pilot projects for curb side recycling and where is Torbay on this issue? They will say we don't have the money yet they can find money to spend on a social function for town employees.

    No amount of explaining or rationalizing will ever make me feel it is justified to spend tax payers dollars on employee social functions. It is reprehensible in my opinion and a slap in the face to all tax payers when they abuse our funds that way.

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  15. I feel that if a person wishes to dedicate 25+ years of their life to servicing the people of Torbay, St. John's, Newfoundland or the people of Canada as a public servant they certainly deserve to be recognized by their colleagues and by the people they served. What most people do not realize is that public servants often times have to balance the needs of the people, the demands of the politicians, and the resources available in order to ensure the safety and well being of the residents of the communities in which they work and live. It is quite easy for people to criticize the work of public servants, the manner in which they handle resources or the politicians that run for office. However I would ask anyone of these critics to spend a day in the shoes of any public servant or politician. You would certainly have a different attitude. People do not see the countless hours spent ensuring that the residents have clean drinking water, proper sanitary services, fire protection, street lighting, recreation programs, seniors programs and the many other services provided by public servants. Yes, some may get paid overtime and some may get more than what some others agree with but without these people our world would certainly be a different place. As with any profession there are slackers but there are also those who excel. The only difference in a public servant and an individual working for a private company is public servants are always under the scrutiny of the public eye. So everyone complains about how the taxes they pay are spent so frivolously yet I ask you how much a year do you pay for telephone, internet or cable TV? Probably as much or more as you pay for taxes and how many of you contact Rogers or Bell or any other service providers to find out how they are spending that money? I can ensure you that the CEO or COO of one of these Corporations gets a much better bonus that the CAO, the snowplow operator, or the sanitation worker in one of our Municipalities yet we complain because our Town has budgeted less than half of half of one percent of the yearly budget to honor a long time employee or the Town. So I guess that 0.50 of your taxes should be used more wisely and I would challenge anyone who thinks this money was spent incorrectly to run for office or better yet, get out of bed at 4am on Christmas Day and leave your house and your family and get in a snowplow in the middle of a snow storm and plow the streets of this Town to ensure that other people can visit their families on Christmas Day and then tell me that this employee does not deserve 50 cents of your tax dollars. People want arenas, swimming pools, parks and play grounds, they want street lights, safe roads, garbage collection and they want snow clearing yet they do not want their taxes to go up and they spend countless hours trying to point out all the things we don't have or that we should have. So while it is easy to point out the short comings, it is much more difficult to provide the services that people need with limited resources. I suggest people spend more time offering constructive rather than destructive criticism of the services provided by our Town. Instead of pointing out everything that is wrong, we should be happy for the things we have, the people that provide us with the services we have and we should look for ways to improve our Community in order to make it a great place to work and live. Have you ever been to a Council meeting? Have you ever attended a public consultation? Have you ever read a request for proposals? Do you REALLY know what is going on in this Town or are you basing your opinions on the comments or the bloggers in this forum?? If you really think that this long term employee deserves to be recognized then who do you think should pay for it?? I would say the people for whom the services were provided.

    A resident grateful for the services we have and hopeful that we will continue to grow and prosper in this wonderful Community that we have.

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  16. No Clean water in Torbay for 12 days now, and no updates on the website for 5 days. Maybe the money could be used to fix the water issue OR update the Torbay website daily?

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  17. WOW, I just love how some of these very strong comments are signed Anonymous. If you have such a strong opinion, why not sign your name?
    The comment from October 12, 2010 12:12 AM
    sounds very much like that of a councillor.

    I have had family members work in the public sector, both at the municipal & provincial level, and a person knows exactly what they sign up for when they run for these positions.
    You are working for the people, therefore you most certainly should have to answer to them.
    And who is thinking about those people on fixed incomes when the property taxes are raised each year? Who is looking at what services each resident receives from the town, yet except for water & sewer everyone is paying the same amount?
    Parties such as these are NOT ALLOWED within the Provincial or Federal government, so why would someone think that anyone who works within the municipal government would be allowed such luxeries.
    And I also found it very insulting to read:
    "Do you REALLY know what is going on in this Town or are you basing your opinions on the comments or the bloggers in this forum??"
    Obviously this "person" does not know the demographics of this town. There are alot of very bright people that live within this town, and I'm sure there's not too many people who would comment on a blog based only on what they read.
    If you have such strong opinions, why not stand up and tell us all who you are.
    I don't agree with how you spent MY money or that of my neighbours. Think about the residents next time and how you think they would like their money spent.
    In this day and age, there's not too much can happen without the public finding out about it. Own up to the mistake and admit the wrong doing, and have it stop NOW!!
    Lisa M.

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