Funding source for municipal conference questioned by two Langley City councillors

Use of council enterprise fund to pay for conference in Richmond questioned.

  • Jan. 21, 2015 7:00 p.m.

When is a travel allowance not a travel allowance?

The question was raised by a pair of Langley City councillors on Jan. 12, as council voted to spend $3,600 to send six of its seven members to the Local Government Leadership Academy in Richmond from Jan. 14-16.

The $600 per person figure included a $300 registration fee as well as $240 for two nights accommodation at the Radisson Hotel and a meal per diem of $60.

The problem for veteran councillors Gayle Martin and Dave Hall wasn’t sending six people to the three-day seminar, but where the money was found to do so.

Martin (the lone member not scheduled to attend the conference) and Hall both wondered why funds were being drawn from the council’s enterprise fund and not from individual members’ travel allotments.

City CAO Francis Cheung said the reason the enterprise fund was used is that the leadership forum is now held every four years, following an election, to bring new council members up to speed on the workings of municipal government and their role in it.

Because it is not an annual conference and because the cost of the seminar has risen over the past several years, while council’s travel allowances have not, the decision was made to use the enterprise fund.

“I don’t want anyone to think I don’t value council and the mayor going,” said Hall. “But I question the use of the enterprise fund. The idea that there’s not enough money in the travel fund has no validity.”

Each councillor is allotted $2,210 to cover travel expenses for the year. The mayor’s allowance is $3,040.

During his time on council there has never been a year when every member used their entire allowance, Hall said.

“It’s added to the surplus that I’ve railed about.”

Hall suggested, as he has in past debates, that should another council member use up his or her allotment and need additional funds, they could be taken from his own surplus.

“Personally, I’ve not claimed parking, meals or a per diem,” he said.

“If others think it’s worth it to stay in hotels …”

Martin attempted to object to Hall’s remarks, but was told by Mayor Ted Schaffer that they fell within the scope of the motion.

Martin said it was her understanding the courses were geared toward new council members.

Schaffer replied that sessions are offered for both new and returning council members at the conference.

Hall made an unsuccessful attempt to reword council’s motion so that only registration fees for the course would be taken from the enterprise fund.

“Am I the only one not going? What am I missing?” she said.

Schaffer replied that sessions are offered for both new and returning council members at the conference.

Hall made an unsuccessful attempt to reword council’s motion so that only registration fees for the course would be taken from the enterprise fund.

Councillor Paul Albrecht — who along with Val van den Broek is brand new to City council — seconded Hall’s amendment for the purposes of discussion, but acknowledged he’d vote in favour of the original motion.

“I agree with the concept of being respectfully cognizant of where the money comes from,” Albrecht said.

“I’m happy to use funds put there for the purpose, but I’m not going to pass up an opportunity for education.”

Councillor Rudy Storteboom, who was re-elected in November after losing his seat three years earlier, said there is nothing new about council using the enterprise fund to cover travel expenses.

“I’m pleased almost all of council is going to the seminar,” said Schaffer, noting there is information members of council may have forgotten about municipal governance and “many changes” for them to catch up on.