The expenses submitted by the city’s three attendees to a conference two months ago in Ottawa is a study in contrasts and further evidence that fiscal responsibility is in short order.
Mayor Cliff Barwick and Ald. Lori Baldwin-Sands settled into the same, rather moderately-priced hostelry, however their accommodation tabs show quite a spread.
Ald. Baldwin-Sands submitted a bill for $426.17 to cover three nights, while the mayor stayed in Ottawa four nights but his total came to $745.80.
Ald. Bill Aarts, meantime, is a far more upscale guy and chose to bed down in the ritzy Westin Hotel for three nights to the tune of $850.50.
A quick deliberation with treasurer Bill Day reveals the city has no policy on an upper limit for hotel accommodations.
That lack of direction is an open door to abuse.
The mayor chose to fly to and from Ottawa, which came to $606.20, while Ald. Baldwin-Sands stayed on terra firma and drove 1270 km, at a cost of $571.50.
Here’s where it gets interesting.
Ald. Aarts hitched a ride with Elgin Warden Sylvia Hofhuis and his travel costs and miscellaneous expenses were picked up by the county.
Wonder how county ratepayers feel about subsidizing a city official, although to be fair he is a county resident.
So, the total tab for the conference was close to $3,500 and we still await the attendees reporting to council on what transpired in Ottawa, what information was gathered and the nature of meetings and seminars attended.
We’re sure the full report is pending.
Talk about receiving good value for taxpayer dollars.
COURTING ST. THOMAS
Opposition Leader (but without a seat in the Ontario Legislature) John Tory visits the city a week ago Friday and in a confab with Mayor Barwick, the two agree a revamp of the 155-year-old Elgin County Courthouse would help the city cope with the loss of several thousand manufacturing jobs.
This project would boost the city’s mood and economy, offered Tory, although no word as to whether he said this with a straight face.
So, the families of all of these out of work or soon to be unemployed workers will sleep easier at night knowing Elgin’s lawyers have a swanky new home?
And everyone lived happily ever after in this fairy tale.
Time for a reality check here, so over to Employment Services Elgin program coordinator Cathy Grondin who informs job seekers far outnumber listings.
“We very much see people in distress,” she notes. “Some people are filled with anxiety and fear; some people are just right down. Other people are angry, but behind the anger is, again, the fear of, ‘What am I going to do for my family and for our future?’ “
Boosting the spirits of St. Thomas and area residents is wonderful, but if rebuilding the courthouse (and this corner has long advocated for its retention) is being touted as a major component in efforts to offset job losses, then this administration is truly bereft of long-term economic vision.
THERE’S HOPE YET, CHIEF
The city is in for tough budget decisions beginning this month and with a price tag of $10 million plus, a new headquarters for Chief Bill Lynch and the police service could easily have been an early casualty as our elected officials and staff sharpen their pencils.
There is no doubt whatsoever of the need for a new facility and light may yet be at the end of the tunnel as council Monday will consider a report from treasurer Day, who recommends the city endorse the new police HQ for funding under the provincial Building Fund announced this past August.
For the first intake for this program, $100 million is available from both the federal and provincial governments, with applicants expected to match contributions from the higher levels of government.
There are a lot of other worthy projects – library renovations and Wellington Street reconstruction to name a couple – however the needs of our police service must be a top priority.
We can’t afford to endure another Timken Centre funding fiasco whereby the city dropped the ball miserably in its efforts to obtain $3 million in grants from both the province and the feds.
If you’ve forgotten, that debacle involved missed deadlines, sketchy support material and applications to programs not designed to fund arenas.
Taxpayers will continue to pay for those miscues well into the next decade.
City Scope hits the blogosphere.
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It’s all about dialogue, staying informed and making a difference.
See you there.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Since we have had such bad news coming in a relatively short period of time, give us some good news, say ‘We are going to restore the courthouse.’ “
Mayor Cliff Barwick meets with Ontario Opposition Leader John Tory a week ago and their “win-win” solution for area job losses is to revamp the Elgin County Courthouse.
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