St. Albert city council’s expense reimbursements grew to more than $75,000 in 2016.
The total of $75,045.49 is roughly a 20-per-cent increase over the $61,873 council members claimed in 2015.
Neither figure includes the $24,000 Mayor Nolan Crouse receives annually from the Capital Region Board (CRB). The figure does include the various meeting fees that are paid to council but reimbursed by outside boards and as such may be misleading.
Crouse said while the numbers themselves often reflect the kind of work council members do, much of the difference between the highest and lowest expense claims comes from meeting per diems and travel costs associated with the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM).
“If you don’t have any interest, or you’re not appointed (by council), then those expenses aren’t going to show up,” he said. “It becomes a question of how you look at that: do you look at expenses or do you look at contributions?”
On top of simply serving “the greater good,” he said having council members take part in provincial or federal organizations – including travelling to conferences – provides valuable information that benefits residents.
“It lets you gain a knowledge about other provinces, other regions, other municipalities, that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to gather if you didn’t have that personal development or serve on broader committees,” Crouse said.
In general, councillors spent more in 2016 than they did in 2015, in some cases by thousands of dollars.
Coun. Cathy Heron’s expenses more than doubled to $22,190.26 in 2016 from $9,580.18 in 2015. Much of that increase can be attributed to the “excessive amount of work I do for the city,” Heron said.
“It’s all per diems, and almost every one of those per diems is reimbursed to the city,” she said.
Heron said without a full-time job outside council, she often finds herself putting her hands up to volunteer and as a result finds herself on a great many committees – some of which actually result in a small profit to the city.
Councillors are only allowed to claim a maximum of $200 for a per-diem expense, while the AUMA for example pays a per diem of $285. The difference winds up in city coffers.
Coun. Bob Russell had the lowest expense claims from among the seven council members with $1,355.84, compared to the $772.95 he claimed in 2015 after winning the June 24 byelection.
“I try to be prudent, and I always have been,” he said. “I’ve never been criticized for any expenses.”
He said he appreciates the fact that he has a full-time job and as such tends to worry about the problems that are closer to home. Russell said that councillors with more time put their names forward to serve in other ways, like on CRB or AUMA committees. He said he does have some concerns about the value that comes back to the city as a result, and whether it justifies the time and expense.
“Is it really helping the city any, being involved in all these things? I’ve got some concerns about that,” he said.
Council members can claim expenses relating to business expenses like mobile phones and Internet bills, mileage and other travel costs, office supplies like paper and printer ink. There is also a personal development allowance for council member growth.
Examples of business expenses include things like $327.70 worth of printer ink Coun. Cam MacKay expensed in September, or the $41.24 worth of pens, pencils and paper Russell expensed in October.
Travel expenses include mileage to meetings and airfare to conferences around the country, like those hosted by the FCM.
Professional development expenses, which council members rarely claim, can include courses, seminars or other expenses. For example, Crouse was reimbursed $21.12 for mileage for a tour of the back alleys in Griesbach in June.
Council has approved a new reimbursement and expense policy that will come into effect for the next council, which will be elected Oct. 16 this year.
Mayor Nolan Crouse: $21,507.22 (excludes payment from CRB)
Coun. Wes Brodhead: $10,765.90
Coun. Cathy Heron: $22,190.26
Coun. Sheena Hughes: $1,896.41
Coun. Cam MacKay: $6,047.54
Coun. Tim Osborne: $11,282.32
Coun. Bob Russell: $1,355.84
*These figures may be misleading, as they include per-diem payments for meetings that are reimbursed to the city.