MODG defends conference spending

By Lois Ann Dort    

GUYSBOROUGH – The Municipality of the District of Guysborough has been identified as the biggest spender among Nova Scotia municipalities on travel to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) annual conference in 2014. On Tuesday, May 31 CBC news released figures obtained by a Freedom of Information request pertaining to the monies spent by Nova Scotia municipalities on trips to recent FCM meetings.

The release revealed that the Municipality of the District of Guysborough, with a population of just over 4,000, spent more on attending the FCM conference in Niagara Falls than any other municipality in the province, sending six of eight councillors at a reported cost of $24,580.15. The Halifax Regional Municipality reportedly spent $7,615 on the same conference and a municipality with similar population, Antigonish Town (population 4,524), spent just over $7,000. The Journal spoke to MODG Warden Vernon Pitts about the reported spending Tuesday morning.

When asked why six of eight councillors attended the Niagara Falls FCM meeting in 2014, Warden Vernon Pitts said, “As far as councillors attending the meeting it is a motion of council that directs that. Councillors, on their own, don’t say ‘I’m going here’ or ‘I’m going there,’...Council has to designate who goes and who doesn’t. It was decided at that time that those councillors would go...we also have to realize that this is professional development for all the councillors...the workshops... I think it is money well spent.”

A prime example of the professional development opportunities available at such meetings, according to Pitts, is the decision to move forward with a second generation landfill in the municipality, “That was spurred by an FCM workshop...you gauge your fellow delegates and you find out why they did it and what problems they ran into to ensure that we don’t run into the same problems.

“Another example would be Sable Wind. We had education through FCM on that as well as the UNSM (Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities). I think it is money well spent.”

Pitts said that attending such conferences was, most importantly, an educational opportunity for councillors. “When councillors go to those things they bring back information.” He stated that when he attended such conferences in the past he brought back information on waste management, public works and other issues.

“It does not matter whether you’re dealing with playground equipment or whatever; when you get out on the national scale you see what they are doing in other places and if it fits here we try it...it’s educational and information gathering,” stated Pitts.

Pitts added that affiliation with the FCM gives the municipality a much stronger voice in both provincial and federal affairs. “Rather than one municipality crying alone, by affiliation with the FCM we have a much stronger voice...We have to look out for our best interests,” he said citing federal infrastructure programs and the gas tax paid out to municipalities.

Any travel is pre-approved by council and is included in the yearly budget, said Pitts. “In defence of that just look at our programs here, our tax rates, our services. I think we are doing everything right. I know we are doing everything right. If there is nothing wrong with that, why would you want to fix it.”

In light of the release on spending across provincial municipalities on such trips, Pitts said he expects the issue to come up at future council meetings. “I anticipate that by releasing these numbers that it is going to trigger something. If nothing else it will certainly trigger a discussion and debate around the table as to how we conduct business.”