Community groups could see councillor funding dry...
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Feb 05, 2013  |  Vote 0    0

Community groups could see councillor funding dry up

Ottawa East News

City councillors have begun to warn community groups that their ability to donate money from their office budgets to community events may soon be limited.

There is no firm proposal yet, but councillors say Mayor Jim Watson is proposing a cap on how much of their office budget councillors are allowed to donate to community causes, as well as limits on how involved municipal elected officials can be in the financial side of community events.

Donations and sponsorships are allowed under the current rules and the online office expense disclosure forms include a section for councillors to list the amount of donations they doled out. Typical donations include things like membership to the local legion branch, sponsorship of a winter carnival, donations to food banks and the purchase of gift certificates as prizes for community events.

“Obviously that’s an area of concern to councillors because that’s part of our role – to promote events and showcase our communities,” said Kanata South Coun. Allan Hubley. “That said, there are examples, shall we say, where someone may get the wrong perception of what’s going on … I don’t believe we should be handling all the money for the events.”

Hubley rarely gives donations from his office budget, he said, because he doesn’t want his residents to “get the wrong impression” of the way he spends their tax dollars on their behalf.

The policy would be part of a code of conduct that’s being developed to build on the work of the city’s new integrity commissioner; efforts that include the lobbyist registry. The proposal would put more parameters around how that office budget could be spent.

Each councillor received $234,000 in 2012 to spend on office supplies and staffing, as well as community events, donations and sponsorships.

“As of right now, there is no definition as to how our office money should be spent,” said Rideau-Goulbourn Coun. Scott Moffatt.

Bob Brocklebank of the Federation of Citizens Associations said anything to make council more transparent is a good thing, but a lack of flexibility in this case could be detrimental to community involvement.

The availability and use of councillors’ office-budget funds varies widely across the different wards, but that money is often used to rent space for community events and more importantly, community meetings, Brocklebank said.

Allowing flexibility in how councillors spend their allotment means there are more funds available to encourage community engagement, Brocklebank said, adding he doesn’t think councillors should be proud if they make a point of avoiding donations.

“It is on the public consultation side that I am concerned about the limitations that this might bring,” Brocklebank said. “Sometimes you go out and fix problems that don’t exist.”

Changing a practice that residents support and no one is complaining about doesn’t make much sense, Moffatt said.

He keeps his own “mental cap” on spending; he won’t give out more than $10,000 of his office budget per year to community causes. Supporting community causes with tax dollars collected from citizens makes sense, Moffatt said.

The councillor said he tends not to organize or run community events because there is a large number of active groups in his ward. Instead, he contributes money to rent space or back community-led events in other ways.

“I like to be able to support them so that they can do community-oriented events that build community spirit and help bring the community together,” he said. “That’s what our job is … to support our communities and make our communities grow.”

Watson’s office budget is $778,000, but Hubley said the mayor’s budget wasn’t proposed to be subject to the same rules. That concerned the Kanata South councillor, who said any policy should apply equally to all members of council, including the mayor.

Watson’s press secretary, Ryan Kennery, said in an email it would be premature for the mayor to discuss the proposal. The policy proposal is expected to be announced in March, Kennery said.


With files from Emma Jackson.

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