Sunday, March 7, 2021

Letter: C-K’s budget process is ‘pointless and wasteful’

Chatham-Kent’s citizens have a lawful right to have full access to complete financial details regarding our annual municipal budget.

Full access means disclosure of all the information, line-by-line, for our six departments and 21 divisions, provided in an online user-friendly format that can be accessed by anyone at any time.

All taxpayers, including our council members, should have the right to drill down to review every expense at every level because only on that basis can we make constructive recommendations that could save us millions of dollars.

Chatham-Kent’s annual budget provides colourful graphs, grand totals and unnecessary comparisons with other municipalities, which, as our office has discovered, creatively hides millions in wasteful spending.

In particular, police services are allowed to leave their budget information blank in the municipality’s public accounts for specious reasons purportedly related to security concerns.

CK Council has the legislative right to demand a full accounting, but so far has failed to do so.

Our investigation into this one department alone has revealed that public funds have been used to wrongly purchase a $75,000 vehicle for professional and personal use (a problem since rectified by a complaint lodged by our office); as well, funds have been wasted on other expenses and perks such as the purchase of smart watches, lawn and garden equipment, and first-class airline tickets, including tickets for family members.

Another major expense, which we believe to be unjustified, is currently the subject of a complaint made to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director in Toronto.

We estimate that an audit of this one department alone could result in a saving of around $1-million before the next election in 2022.

Since amalgamation, our municipal budget has tripled, yet we have 7,000 fewer taxpayers and our industrial tax base has shrunk by 60 percent.

In spite of these developments, we believe, with an audit of municipal books, monies could be readily found to support our best complement of front-line service staff without raising taxes.

However, CK’s current auditors are nothing more than bookkeepers, compiling provincial tax returns based solely on the selective records the municipality provides.

Thus, we at municipal are requesting, commencing with the 2021 budget process, that city council institute an accounting system that is appropriately detailed, fully transparent and available online 24/7 for all six departments and 21 divisions.

This would include a hierarchical legend, utilizing expandable-collapsible bookmarks for all sections of the Chatham-Kent budget, so that taxpayers can follow monies from their allocation by council to their expenditure down departmental and divisional lines to the last penny used for the last cup of coffee.

If given the opportunity to scrutinize all the line items in our budget process, information that is already logged into our municipal computer system, we believe taxpayers would be shocked and motivated to demand that their monies be used in more responsible ways.

It is imperative that the province expand the powers of the Auditor General allowing for a review and, if needed, an audit of municipal books based on reasonable and responsible complaint criteria.

The province has already acknowledged the lack of municipal accountability by providing municipalities with a $200 million cash incentive to improve accounting methods.

All levels of Canadian government were originally intended to perform in a responsible and accountable fashion, that is, in the best of interest of taxpayers. However, government has not turned out to be a poster child of integrity. In many cases, it has become a system that selfishly advantages certain representatives and functionaries at the expense of the people they are supposed to serve.

We implore CK to face this problem head-on. We request that Chatham-Kent acknowledge its current lack of transparency and the need to establish a new model of public accountability to give citizens the information they need to make their own judgments about the efficacy of their own government.

Respectfully submitted,

John K. Cryderman

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