Vancouver’s mayor is calling for each councillor’s discretionary fund to be immediately increased to $30,000 a year from $6,000 to better serve the needs of the public.
In a council motion titled Increasing Support for Councillors for Constituency Work and Responding to Public Concerns, Kennedy Stewart writes that requests from the public for help increased with the election of the new city council in October.
“The discretionary fund of $6,000 per councillor per year is insufficient to contract the services needed to meet constituency needs and ensure timely response to public communications and requests for help,” the motion states.
The mayor claims councillors in Vancouver are under-supported compared to their colleagues across Canada and the extra funding could be used to hire part-time or contract staff to research constituent issues stemming from the hundreds of phone calls and emails councillors receive each week.
“I just want to help facilitate reducing their administrative loads so they can do more thinking about policy and interacting with the public,” Stewart told a city hall media briefing on Jan. 21.
Councillors only recently started receiving $6,000 per year in discretionary spending after a June 2016 staff report recommended the fund for “communication expenses, fees for consulting and other contracted services, cost of research and information gathering, and costs of community outreach and events.”
The current discretionary budget for the city’s 10 councillors is $60,000 annually. The mayor’s suggested increase would cost taxpayers $300,000 per year — a hike of $240,000 or 400 per cent.
NPA city councillor Lisa Dominato says she is getting through her workload with help from city staff and an assistant — and finds the timing of the mayor’s motion concerning.
“I don’t think this is time to be increasing discretionary spending five-fold for councillors when we’ve just increased property taxes 4.5 per cent in the city of Vancouver along with other fees,” Dominato told Global News.
“I think the timing’s terrible,” said former NPA councillor George Affleck.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate.”
Affleck told Global News he had no problems responding to constituents’ concerns within existing budgets.
“A five-fold increase from $6,000 to $30,000 to me is exorbitant. I think the first thing they should look at is cutting the communications department, cutting the mayor’s office as opposed to adding costs of bureaucracy to city hall.”
In an email to Global News, the mayor’s communications director, Alvin Singh, claims, “The communications and public engagement team is already running flat out to help make sure the opinions and ideas of Vancouverites are incorporated into everything we do.”
Singh also says the total Vancouver mayor and council budget “represents a cost of $4.98 per capita and ranks among the lowest in the country when compared to other Canadian cities.”
Council is set to vote on the extra cash on Tuesday. If approved, the discretionary fund increase would come from the city’s contingency fund this year, with the raise reviewed during the next budget.