Nova Scotia

9 CBRM councillors claiming controversial travel allowance

A year after the mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality recommended scrapping a controversial travel allowance, CBC News has confirmed nine out of twelve councillors are still claiming it.

Some councillors want it gone, some still undecided

Nine out of 12 councillors in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality are still claiming a controversial travel allowance that the mayor recommended scrapping a year ago. (CBRM)

A year after the mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality recommended scrapping a controversial travel allowance, CBC News has confirmed nine out of twelve councillors are still claiming it.

The allowance pays councillors $140 a week — or $7,280 a year — for travel within the municipality, with no requirement to provide receipts.

According to documents obtained by CBC News under the Freedom of Information Act, the travel allowance for 2013-2014 cost the municipality close to $80,000. In 2014-2015, it amounted to $65,000. That's about half of the total expenses claimed by councillors in each year.

Lowell Cormier, who represents New Waterford and the surrounding area, is one of three councillors not claiming the travel allowance. 

"I claim my travel on mileage," he said.

"It seemed like a natural thing for me to do because I worked for the school board and anything I had to do expense-wise was in a claim sheet."

Cormier said it makes sense for him because he lives in a compact riding. In 2013-2014 his travel expenses were $655.  The next year, they totalled $611. 

According to the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, Cormier, Kevin Saccary, and Darrell Flynn are the only councillors who claim mileage rather than taking the allowance.

Mayor Cecil Clarke also claims mileage rather than a travel allowance. In 2013-2014, his total claim for local travel was about $5,000.

Last year, Clarke suggested the allowance should be eliminated. The allowance is on the agenda for upcoming budget talks. However, the municipality's director of finance, Marie Walsh, said council may decide to leave the entire matter until after the fall election so the councillors being affected by the decision are the ones making it.

Councillors reached by CBC News would not say whether they feel the travel allowance should be eliminated. Many told CBC they would be willing to go along with whatever the majority decides.

However, Ivan Doncaster, who represents a rural riding, told CBC News he doesn't like the travel allowance because it allocates the same amount to every councillor regardless of whether they represent a large rural riding or live in Sydney.

When the allowance was first proposed, Coun. Ray Paruch voted against it but has claimed it since then. In fact, it is the only expense Paruch — who represents a district in Sydney — does claim.

"I think it was about three or four months that I went without collecting the $140," he said.

"Then, when I had a chance to examine my conscience and examine that I was the lowest paid councillor of any, not taking the $140 and paying out of pocket gas expenses, I made the decision to take the $140. Mainly because it has been a decision of council and I am a member of council."

Walsh points out the travel allowance is taxable, unlike expenses supported by receipts.

"If you submit expenses of your actual travel then that is considered reimbursement and is not taxable," she said.

Another significant expense charged by councillors relates to conferences hosted by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. 

In May 2013, the Cape Breton Regional Municipality sent seven councillors to the federation's annual meeting in Vancouver at a cost of close to $24,000. Six councillors went to the federation's annual meeting in Niagara Falls in May 2014. That cost the municipality about $16,000.

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