Attending conferences key to community improvement, say municipal leaders
TRURO - Truro town council reduced its travelling and related expenses by more than $21,000 this past budget year.
The expenses were recently provided to the Truro Daily News upon request. It shows council, collectively, spent $50,280.28 on airfare, hotels, mileage parking, meals and incidentals and conference fees from April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012.
That total compares to $71,719.22 for the period of April 1, 2010 to March 31, 2011.
Expenses ranged from none (Coun. Diane Bennett Cook), to $13,357 (Coun. Greg MacArthur).
Although MacArthur was the biggest spender, he also reduced his expenses the most, by almost $14,000.
"I dropped dramatically because I was a lot busier at my own job ... and many times when I went on town business it was during my vacation," said MacArthur.
"And they fixed our phone plan (so) we are not charged for roaming fees and long distance so ... I am the same as everyone else now," MacArthur, who works in the Halifax Regional Municipality, said regarding his phone expenses that almost tripled other councillors' in the previous budget year.
He said his expenses were the highest overall because he was "involved in more projects than the rest of fellow council members" including representing the town on Recreation Nova Scotia, Nova Scotia Police Board and others.
"People don't realize that councillors' (trips) have to be voted on by council. We don't just go," MacArthur added.
Only two council members increased their spending from the previous year: Mayor Bill Mills (by about $3,700) and Coun. Charles Cox (by about $4,400).
Mills said his expenses fluctuate because some years he attends more conferences than others. One business meeting Mills attended this fall was in Austria to "advance the relationship and business dealings" with a company that deals with solar panels.
"It could bring 100 jobs to Truro," Mills said of the proposed agreement.
Mills also attended the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) in Saskatoon, which he didn't attend the previous year.
"I balance things. If I don't go to a conference one year I may go to it another year. I didn't go to the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities (UNSM) conference this year because I went to Austria," said Mills. "If there's immediate impact for the area I go. The FCM, for example, has lobbied the federal government for gas tax rebates. Being part of that resulted in $5 million for the Town of Truro towards infrastructure."
Councillors said, regardless of their spending, conferences are vital to potentially improve the community.
Coun. Raymond Tynes, who had the second highest expenses, at more than $12,600, said the money was worth being spent.
"The experience gained and what I've done in Truro was because of conferences I attend and it helped put Truro on the map," Tynes said.
Tynes attended conferences on topics including inclusion and fighting racism, promoting Cyber (an anti-bullying program) and strategic planning.
He said he also used some of his own finances to cover the learning opportunities.
"I'm self-employed and spent $8,000 to $9,000 of my own money because somebody had to take care of my business while I was on town business," Tynes said.
Coun. Sharron Byers, who saved more than $9,800 partially by finishing terms with The UNSM and FCM, said conferences offer invaluable knowledge.
"It's about balance," Byers said, adding she believes conferences such as the FCM is vital.
"A national board gives the Town the Truro a look a trends and what's happening across Canada. Towns in Nova Scotia are struggling to survive so it's vital to know why and learn from someone else."
The following is a breakdown of expenses by each member of Truro town council from the budget year of April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012.
Conference fees $2,569.59
Total expenses $8,951.36
Previous expenses $5,205.67
Conference fees $1,549.18
Total expenses $5,377.96
Previous expenses $15,184.49
Diane Bennett Cook
Conference fees 0
Total expenses 0
Previous expenses $1,397.38
Conference fees $1,117.90
Total expenses $5,962.04
Previous expenses $1,514.00
Conference fees $1,249.00
Total expenses $3,942.92
Previous expenses $4,119.92
Conference fees $3,912.87
Total expenses $13,357.38
Previous expenses $27,333.56
Conference fees $3,425.74
Total expenses $12,689.28
Previous expenses $16,964.20