Council changes travel protocol

By Geoff Lee

November 17, 2016 12:00 AM

As promised, city council is starting to call the shots on transparency with a recommendation to the city’s administration to amend a new Travel Reimbursement Policy for council and employees.
Council gave administration instructions at Monday’s meeting to change the per diem travel expenses to rates suggested by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) prior to a review.
“It feels really good,” said Mayor Gerald Aalbers, who campaigned on transparency of council and senior management travel expense reports in the recent municipal election on Oct. 26.
“I think that there’s some fine tuning this that was brought to council by administration so they got the sense of what was discussed in the last 50 days or so,” he said.
“I think that you’re going to see more things happen that way.”
Aalbers said council has yet to engage administration, being mostly on the receiving end of information during their orientation since the election.
“Every councillor and myself have questions and we’re going to be engaging as we go forward,” he said.
Council will review the amended travel expense policy at an upcoming council meeting.
The final 2017 budget will be approved at the Dec. 12 meeting.       
“That’s the most important thing going forward as well as getting you an update on the waste water treatment plant,” Aalbers said.
He also said in terms of transparency, getting a new travel expense policy in place is huge.
“I think it’s part of that whole question about transparency that was referred to in the discussion,” he said.
The new policy will reduce paperwork, streamline reimbursement processes and provide more accountability for the payment of travel, meal and accommodation expenses.
The per diem rate amendments to reflect CRA numbers was put forward by Coun. Jonathan Torresan who is an accountant.
“I noted there was an allowance that on a per diem rate, if you don’t have receipts, that it may create a situation where you’d have a taxable benefit,” he said.
“So to make life easier on administration and the payroll people, I thought it would be a lot more convenient and a lot easier to administer if we use the CRA prescribed rates.”
He noted that means there is $9 less in the policy within the thresholds.
He said it makes life a lot easier because now they are not going to have nine extra dollars on their pay stub that the CRA took tax off.
Alan Cayford, who was acting city manager on Monday, said as a city employee, the policy is the policy and employees like him will live within that document.
“As long as it’s based on something,  I think that’s fine and we can deal with that,” he said, referring to the CRA per diem rates.
Coun. Ken Baker said in the past councillors would turn in receipts to be approved by a manager.
He noted the per diem wouldn’t be enough if you were in New York City for instance, but added it’s important everyone knows what the policy is and that you’re not wasting taxpayers’ dollars.
“As long as the public is happy with the process and how we do it, that’s what’s really important,” he said.

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