Richmond Hill councillors rack up over $61K in expenses in first half of 2019
The Liberal keeps tabs on the councillors' expenses in Q2 2019
Oct. 7, 2019
Your elected officials in Richmond Hill have busied themselves with dinner parties at Italian restaurants, out of town golfing events and hosting business representatives for the first half of 2019, according to their expense reports posted on Sept. 26 on the city’s website.
The nine councillors have collectively spent more than $61,000 from January to June this year at public expense, according to the expense reports for Q2.
From nearly $6,000 worth of postage service to over $1,000 at a golf course in Etobicoke, the expense reports revealed a variety of ways that the elected representatives spent public money to fulfil their official duties.
Their expenditure is reimbursed through their allocated budget -- constituency budget and communication budget -- for the purpose of supporting them in performing their duties and representing their constituency, according to Meeta Gandhi, the city’s spokesperson.
It does not mean the councillors get to spend the public money in whichever way they wish, as the member of council expense policy states that their expenses must be “reasonable and reflect what the public expects of an elected official.”
So, who is the biggest spender of public money for the first half of this year and how exactly the councillors represent residents by spending their tax dollars?
The answer is a bit complicated.
Regional Councillor Carmine Perrelli was the biggest spender when his report was first posted, and then he is not.
Perrelli claimed close to $14,000, including over $10,000 on the category of “communication,” as his expense report revealed on Sept. 26.
Oddly though, four days later, Perrelli’s total expenses became $11,115.29 with three items removed.
The three items were over $2,000 worth of “event signage,” $76 logo design, and $456 worth of advertisement.
However, the skin-deep summary of the expenditures does not provide any details beyond the dates and the categories of the reimbursed items.
Asked about the discrepancy, Gandhi said, in an email Oct. 3, “Due to the system changes, some expenses were miscoded in the reports posted last week,” noting the city has recently adopted a new finance system, SAP, which resulted in an error in Perrelli’s Q2 expense report.
After the changes were made to Perrelli’s expense report, Ward 5 Councillor Karen Cilevitz took his place as the biggest spender in the first two quarters of 2019 as she spent more than $12,000, half of which was attributed to her donations to the community.
Her report showed Cilevitz spent over $6,000 on donations to charities and sponsorship to community events. The second biggest-ticket item was business meetings which cost more than $2,000.
Regional Councillor Joe DiPaola who claimed about $7,000 ranked third on the amount of expenses through his allocated budget from January to June.
It may not sound like much in comparison with the top two spenders, but it’s noteworthy that DiPaola’s reimbursement form looked different from his fellow councillors.
First of all, DiPaola filed 90 per cent of his expenses in the first half of 2019 under the category of “unallocated,” according to his expense report first posted online on Sept. 26.
And, his expense report suddenly went off-line on Oct. 2, two days after The Liberal filed a request to the Richmond Hill treasurer’s office for clarification on how the reimbursement form works.
DiPaola’s expense form, before it disappeared online, showed the regional councillor went to Sarpa Restaurant four times in the first four months of this year, costing him -- or potentially the taxpayers -- over $500.
These four dinner/lunch meetings were filed as “unallocated” in the regional councillor’s expense form, and they only represented a small portion of DiPaola’s activities at public expense.
DiPaola also claimed his expenditure at two golf courses out of town as “unallocated” expense in the first half of the year.
On March 5, the regional councillor spent a little over $1,000 at St. George's Golf and Country Club in Etobicoke. On April 12, DiPaola spent about $1,800 at Eagle Nest Golf Club in Maple.
DiPaola's original expense report for Q2 is no long available on the website.
Kathleen Graver, the city's new communications manager, wrote to The Liberal on Oct. 4 that DiPaola's report was taken off-line due to miscoding.
New communication budget for councillors
Outside the council chambers when they are not deliberating motions, these elected officials also have diverse roles to play, ranging from daily contact with resident, keeping up with policies, to representing the city’s interests and constituents.
Correspondingly, they are provided with public money to properly perform these duties each year.
This year, a total of $296,700 has been set aside for all councillors to claim, including a newly added communication budget, $204,000.
"The communication budget is new this year, approved by council as part of the 2019 budget process. It is funded through tax revenue," Graver confirmed.
The mayor and the two regional councillors each get to claim up to $66,300 through their budget allocations, including a $10,300 constituency budget and -- new this year -- a $56,000 communication budget.
Each ward councillor is given $10,300 constituency budget and a new $6,000 communication budget.
Mayor spent the least
If the expense report is any indication of how councillors go about their public duties, Mayor Dave Barrow might have been the least busy one on council.
Claiming only $945 through his budget, Barrow spent the least among his fellow representatives who racked up an average of nearly $7,000 per person in the first half of the year.
His report showed the mayor only claimed two items -- $850 on tickets for community events and $95 for meeting with business representatives.
While the mayor is provided with the largest amount of individual budget along with the two regional councillors, records show he hasn’t been a big spender in the previous term, either.
In 2018, Barrow claimed about $6,500 in total for the entire year through his constituency budget.
Visit richmondhill.ca for the full expense report.