Corp Comm Connects

Newmarket council watchdog questions municipal staff lunches
June 25, 2015
Chris Simon

The town is not taking steps to reduce unnecessary spending by its staff, insists the head of the Newmarket Taxpayers Advocacy Group.

NTAG president Teena Bogner is calling on the municipality to decrease miscellaneous spending by 50 per cent this year and immediately create and implement an entertainment policy for all staff.

Council needs to develop human resources policies that define and measure employee performance, which would include rewards for top staffers and corrective action plans for their lower performing colleagues, in time for 2016 budget deliberations, the group insists.

“There is no formal staff policy for entertainment,” Bogner said, during a deputation to town council Monday night.

“Parties and gifts are not how you motivate, manage and incent staff, especially not with public money. In our research, this excessive spending does not exist in other municipal governments, or in provincial or federal government. (It) is also rare in the private sector. In this economy, staff should be held to higher account.”

In March, Bogner made a similar deputation on the town’s $256,000 sundry, staff appreciation and miscellaneous account spending for 2014 and suggested employees were taking advantage of a sizable annual “slush fund”. 

Among examples of “unwarranted” expenditures last year, the town allocated $10,844 to providing staff with Town of Newmarket branded trunk organizers and car blankets, $4,611 on rubber Recreation Playbook bracelets, nearly $4,210 on a staff barbecue and about $2,700 on branded sweaters and jackets for council members.

Two staff luncheons cost about $2,127 and $897, respectively, while the town spent $1,907 on branded toques.

A Central York Fire Services luncheon cost nearly $720, a town departmental Mexican fiesta party was about $720, and the municipality spent more than $640 at Cardinal Golf Club, NTAG says.

“Many taxpayers are struggling financially, and have made significant changes to their spending habits in this current economic climate,” Bogner said.

“This failure to control unnecessary spending is insulting to the very taxpayers that fund these meals, gifts and incentives. We saw no evidence during the entire 2015 budget process where council suggested internal costs could be decreased or a higher level of fiscal efficiency could be achieved.”

Since the March deputation, no significant action to reduce costs has been taken. In fact, despite the town’s miscellaneous spending being $90,000 over budget in 2014, an additional $10,000 has been allocated to the fund this year, she said.

However, luncheons are a necessary expenditure. They’re part of the town’s retention efforts and help improve staff spirit, town treasurer Mike Mayes said.

“Both the actual expense and budget represent .14 (per cent) of the $90 million included in the 2014 budget for operating expenses,” he said, in a report to council on the matter.

“These accounts represent an extremely small amount. Staff did not find any expenses that were out of the ordinary. It is a common business practice to provide meals for staff that meet or work through their lunch, or to have events that engage staff, encourage team building and improve morale. As municipalities find themselves competing over the pool of qualified individuals, such tools and tactics are becoming more important.”

Miscellaneous accounts will always be necessary, because expenses with “no designated place to allocate them” occur. And BDO Canada or Grant Thornton — the town’s current and previous external auditors, respectively — have not noted deficiency within the municipality’s internal accounting procedures on this issue, Mayes said. 

CAO Bob Shelton said municipal employees do have objectives to meet.

“There is a roll down of council’s strategic priorities throughout the organization, to ensure all staff are working to accomplish the direction set out,” he said. “The executive team (does) have performance objectives. We keep track of the accomplishments, in terms of council’s strategic priorities.”