Important decisions should be taken seriously. They deserve to be debated, their merits picked apart by serious minds doing serious work.
But at what point does a noble idea lose its lustre and find itself relegated to the dustbin of good intentions?
“This has been on the table since budget, so I feel like it’s been quite a long time,” bemoaned Springwater Township Coun. Danielle Alexander at a recent council meeting. “From my perspective, I have a certain level of frustration that we’re still discussing this.”
The object of Alexander’s frustration was a motion that was first tabled more than seven months ago, on Feb.2.
Brought forward at the time by Deputy Mayor George Cabral, the motion originally sought to create a ‘special discretionary operational budget’ of $5,000 for each of the township wards, the mayor and the deputy mayor.
This amount was reduced to its current $4,000 each, bringing the total value of the special discretionary operational budget to $28,000 annually for three of council’s four-year term. The funds would not be accessible during an election year.
Under the terms of the motion, the ward councillor could then access the special discretionary operational budget for use within their ward for special purchases, services, events or other worthwhile causes, which they say would be meaningful, beneficial and worthwhile to their ward and residents.
The $4,000 special discretionary operational budget would be in addition to the $1,000 Springwater councillors receive annually for supporting community events, networking, holding town hall meetings and other small ticket items.
Initial reaction to the motion was mixed.
“It’s my understanding that council currently has a discretionary fund of a $1,000 each and I also understand that, over the last four years, council has used a total of $600 over the last four years, which equates to about $30 per year per ward,” Coun. Brad Thompson said at the Feb. 2 meeting. “My understanding is that this fund was already available to council and they didn’t use it. This item is something I would like to see pulled from this year’s budget.”
Thompson added council should maintain the $1,000 discretionary fund that is currently in place.
Cabral pointed out that the $600 Thompson referenced was delivered during the pandemic, when everything was virtually shut down, and wasn’t a true reflection of the volume of requests councillors receive.
“Due to the pandemic, many of the things that would have come from that fund, that councillors would have participated in, events or what not, didn’t happen,” Cabral said. “That kind of does show why that funding went forward.”
Some councillors at the February meeting admitted to being confused about what was allowed and what wasn’t and were not entirely clear about which account paid for which item.
“My understanding, when I read the policy of the current $1,000 discretionary fund, is it’s for myself to attend a golf tournament or more stuff for me to help the community,” said Alexander. “Versus Deputy Mayor Cabral’s motion, I think, and I assume it would be written, that this is tangible to the community and not for me.
“I looked at the other one (the $1,000 discretionary fund) more of an expense account to be honest, obviously with parameters and this (Cabral’s motion), I thought, was something completely different," the councillor added.
Jasvinder Rattigan, the township's director of finance, tried to provide clarity. She said Alexander was basically correct in her assumption the $1,000 annual discretionary budget is for typical day-to-day expenses.
The $1,000 discretionary budget "is not necessarily intended for the purposes of operational items,” Rattigan said.
Cabral said the money in the special discretionary operational budget is not for individual councillors, but for the ward or township as a whole.
“This motion allows members of council to provide funding for small projects in their respective wards,” she said. “Members of the community will have the opportunity to request funding for events or specific items that provide value to their communities.”
Mayor Jennifer Coughlin expressed concerns about the motion and the fact that it left approvals to individual councillors rather than council as a whole, somet
hing she said would be a violation of the Municipal Act.
To illustrate her point, Coughlin said if she thought a new dog park was needed somewhere in the township, she could make it happen almost instantly.
“Without approval of council and without input from the community,” the mayor said. “I have now unilaterally decided to do this, but I have also — as I’m not going to go out and procure the fencing or dig the holes myself — I, as an individual, am now directing staff.”
Coughlin says this is not allowed. Staff can take direction from council only, she said, not individual members of council.
Since its introduction in February, the motion has continued to appear on council agendas with no apparent resolution in sight.
At last week’s council meeting, councillors were still grappling with it. They agreed that any requests would be recommended by individual councillors, but approved by council. They would rework the wording of the motion and they would ensure processes and oversights were included.
At the end of the night, however, the motion was still not passed.
“Council is still very divided and confused on how this fund can be used and how it is to be administered,” said Thompson, adding the township's CAO has "strongly recommended that we do not go forward with this fund" because as it contravenes the Municipal Act as well as the municipality's own procurement bylaw.
“This fund has been a distraction and confusion for both staff and council and is not needed," he added.
Wayne Doyle, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BarrieToday.com