Nova Scotia

CBRM's controversial travel allowance to be overhauled

Since 2005, council members in Cape Breton Regional Municipality have been allowed to claim a flat fee of $140 a week to cover travel expenses in their districts. Council has voted unanimously to scrap that, but not without some reservations.

Flat fee of $140 a week to be replaced with straight reimbursement for actual mileage incurred by councillors

Cape Breton Regional Municipal Coun. Steve Gillespie has led the latest charge to have the municipality's controversial travel allowance replaced with straight reimbursement for actual mileage. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Cape Breton regional council has voted unanimously to throw out a longstanding and controversial travel allowance, but not without some reservations.

Since 2005, councillors have been allowed to claim a flat fee of $140 a week to cover travel expenses in their districts.

That was paid regardless of how far or how often they travelled and receipts were not required.

The allowance sparked controversy in 2007, when it was discovered that one councillor, Frankie Morrison, had been working out west while collecting the local mileage fee.

He eventually paid that money back, but some councillors have opposed the allowance since then.

Steve Gillespie, a first-time councillor, has led the most recent charge to get rid of the allowance.

Coun. Darren Bruckschwaiger says he was torn because the allowance was easy to claim, but it did not cover the tens of thousands of kilometres he put on his personal vehicle every year. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

"This, as people have known, is a contentious issue, but at the same time, it's not about the money, it's about the transparency," he said at Tuesday's general committee meeting.

It is also about fairness, Gillespie said.

"There is a district in the municipality that is less than 10-square kilometres and there is a district in the municipality over 1,000-square kilometres," he said. "It is difficult to pay each councillor the same amount of money, when we all know that travel in the district and travel to meetings is not equitably compensated."

Coun. Darren Bruckschwaiger said he was torn because the allowance was easy to claim, but it was not proper reimbursement for all the municipal travel he did.

Bruckschwaiger said he puts tens of thousands of kilometres on his personal vehicle every year conducting municipal business.

"I did my own calculations and I can assure you that I've made no money off this deal," he said.

Coun. Clarence Prince says he never felt guilty taking the flat fee because it was approved by council and councillors had the option to take it or not. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

CBRM's chief financial officer, Jennifer Campbell, said out of 15 other municipalities in the province, only two — Inverness and East Hants — had a taxable travel allowance.

She said that means in some cases $40 or more of CBRM's travel allowance was going to the federal government, reducing the mileage reimbursement for councillors.

Some CBRM councillors, like Clarence Prince, defended the flat fee, but also said they could live with a new system.

CFO Jennifer Campbell says CBRM's debt is spread out over 10 years and the municipality is well positioned to pay off its debts over the long term. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

"I never ever felt guilty taking the $140," Prince said. "It was passed by the council at that time and councillors had the option to take it or not take it."

Campbell said she will draft a new policy that reimburses councillors for actual mileage incurred and bring it back to council for final approval.

The policy is expected to contain details on what would be considered eligible travel expenses, such as council and committee meetings, workshops and public meetings, municipal or provincial events and others if approved by the chief administrative officer.

Political activities associated with an election and meetings with constituents, among others, would be considered ineligible expenses.

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Clarifications

  • This story has been clarified to reflect the fact that the East Hants travel allowance is taxable, similar to CBRM's, but it is not a flat fee. It varies depending on the distance each councillor lives from the East Hants municipal office.
    Feb 05, 2020 3:29 PM AT

About the Author

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 16 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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