Nova Scotia·CBC Investigates

Critics question 'extravagant' spending by Guysborough councillors and staff

Councillors in a Nova Scotia municipality are being criticized for acting "like school kids out on a high school trip" after expensing thousands of dollars worth of alcohol and travel to taxpayers.

Hundreds of dollars spent at NSLC for strategy sessions and Christmas parties

Councillors and senior staff with the Municipality of the District of Guysborough spent thousands of dollars on alcohol and travel and expensed it to taxpayers. (iStock)

Councillors in a Nova Scotia municipality are being criticized for acting "like school kids out on a high school trip" after expensing thousands of dollars worth of alcohol and travel to taxpayers.

Every winter, councillors and senior staff with the Municipality of the District of Guysborough travel to Pictou County to draft a plan for the next budget year. Before the two-day meeting, they stock up on supplies.

For the January 2014 meeting, municipal Visas were used to buy more than $400 in wine, beer, rum, vodka and lemon gin, according to receipts obtained through the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Staff also picked up $73 worth of snacks and drinks, and spent nearly $1,400 dining at The Bistro restaurant in New Glasgow.

"I'm not saying don't buy alcohol, but don't expect us to pay for it," said Susanne Roy, a Guysborough resident who has also requested expense details from the municipality.

"It's not a perk of the job."

Susanne Roy, a resident of Guysborough, says municipal expenses should be posted online. (CBC)

Municipal Visa statements and receipts obtained by CBC News detail a pattern of spending that is also the focus of an investigation by the provincial ombudsman's office.

Over a 3½-year period, receipts indicate Guysborough officials bought more than $2,700 in alcohol for events such as annual strategy sessions and Christmas parties.

In other cases, alcohol was included on restaurant bills, where municipal officials entertained business representatives and picked up the tab.

In January 2014, a municipal Visa was used to purchase wine, beer, rum and other alcoholic drinks for Guysborough's strategic planning meeting. The total bill came to $391. (Municipality of the District of Guysborough)

No alcohol policy

While the province and most municipalities have policies banning or restricting spending on alcohol, there is no such policy in the Municipality of the District of Guysborough.

In an interview with CBC News in May, Warden Vernon Pitts defended the district's policy on alcohol. However, in an email to CBC News this week, he said that policy will now be reviewed.

Warden Vernon Pitts said the municipality's policy on alcohol will be reviewed. (CBC)

In 2015, the rural district of just over 4,000 people spent more than any other Nova Scotia municipality to attend a national conference in Niagara Falls. The overall cost for six people was $24,000.

Roy wanted to see that $24,000 pay for some summer students, or go toward a bursary.

"I really believe the majority of the population has no idea how much money they are actually spending because I think there would be an uproar," she said.

Surplus of $1M for 2015-2016

Pitts declined to be interviewed for the story and only agreed to answer questions by email. 

He said the two-day strategy session is held outside Guysborough each year so council members can plan "without having to deal with the distractions that are inherent with meeting around our own table."

Pitts said 18 people attended this year's meeting and with hotel accommodation, it cost the municipality a total of $6,595.

In June 2014, the municipality's bill for a "promotional dinner" for 10 people at Desbarres Manor in Guysborough included $255.55 in wine and other alcoholic drinks. (Municipality of the District of Guysborough)

He also noted the municipality had a surplus of more than $1 million in the 2015-2016 fiscal year. More than half of Guysborough's revenue comes from business investments including a solid waste facility and a wind farm, Pitts said.

'They're getting really gourmet meals'

At least one candidate for council says voters in Guysborough deserve more information about how municipal money is spent.

Ray Bates, a retired principal and community college instructor who is running in next month's municipal election, says voters are concerned about the travel and "extravagant" spending by the current council.

Ray Bates is a running in next month's election to be a councillor for the Municipality of the District of Guysborough. (CBC)

"They're getting really gourmet meals. I don't think that's fair," he said.

"There's better places that money could go. There are many non-profit groups that would love to have $5,000 or $10,000 or $15,000 that council is off spending on meals and travel."

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