10.18.2013

How Are Your Taxes Being Spent?

*This is a guest post from Strathcona County Ward 1 Candidate Ben Proulx


The purpose of this blog post is to uphold my commitment of transparency, accountability, and communication with residents. Strathcona County taxpayers are entitled to know exactly how their dollars are being spent.

In late September, I filed a FOIP request for Strathcona County Mayor Linda Osinchuk and Ward 1 Councillor Vic Bidzinski. The application was in regards to their trip to Toronto in June for the World Conference on Disaster Management. Through FOIP, I sought information regarding their expenses filed from this trip.

There are many aspects to examine when analyzing information of this nature. That being said, red flags were raised early on in this case.

The World Conference on Disaster Management ran from June 23 to June 26, 2013. However, a last-minute flight change landed Osinchuk and Bidzinski in Toronto just before 6 a.m. on June 26 — the final day of the conference. Their attendance alone must be called into question, as Councillor Jason Gariepy attended the conference in full on behalf of Strathcona County.

According to County staff, the late change in schedule for Osinchuk and Bidzinski was made so that the pair could attend the June 25 Council meeting. The main focus of this meeting was a land development proposal, made by Bethel Land Corporation, to place a multi-family residence within the County’s Industrial Buffer Zone (Council rejected this proposal, with Osinchuk and Bidzinski both voting in favour of it).

Among numerous evident issues, Osinchuk and Bidzinski only attended the final two hours of the conference, as the last day of June 26 only ran from 10 a.m. until 12 p.m. Surprisingly, however, Osinchuk and Bidzinski remained in Toronto for an additional two days, returning to Strathcona County on Friday, June 28. No rationale was provided to explain the two additional days spent out of province.

So how much did these two hours cost taxpayers? The FOIP receipts demonstrate the following charges:

• Taxpayers spent a total of $2,248.70 ($1,124.35 each) for both elected officials, Osinchuk and Bidzinski, to attend the conference — for two hours.
• Osinchuk and Bidzinski's flights each cost $619, for a total of $1,238.
• Both Osinchuk and Bidzinski’s hotel bills amounted to a total of $448.40 each, for a combined total of $896.80. This payment was for the full stay, including the two days following the conference.
• Two limousine companies (one receipt from Aaroport Limousine and another one simply marked “Limo and Taxi Payment”) added up to a total cost of $134.60.
• A Valet Parking receipt amounted to $100.80.
• Lastly, there was a cost of $23.28 filed under County expenses at a Denny’s in Sherwood Park before even taking off to Toronto.

These expenses alone amounted to $4,642.28 of taxpayer dollars — your dollars.

In addition, on the first evening following their arrival on June 26, Bidzinski ordered 10 alcoholic beverages — eight vodkas and two rums. We must remember that Bidzinski ordered these drinks all in one night while taxpayers sent him to Toronto to represent the County. This information was divulged through the Councillor expenses provided through FOIP. Taxpayers did not pay for this alcohol. That is not the issue here. Rather, the issue is that Vic was in Toronto as a representative of Strathcona County. I expect elected officials to act as such. This is simply unacceptable behaviour by a Strathcona County Councillor.

It is of the utmost importance that residents have the ability to access Councillor expenses with ease. Inquiring residents should not have to pay the current minimum $25 fee, with an expected delay of one month to satisfy the said requests.

 The fact of the matter is that Linda Osinchuk and Vic Bidzinski spent more than $4,600 of residents’ tax dollars to attend a conference for a total of two hours — a conference where Strathcona County already had full representation.

Regardless of the dollar amount, it begs the question of where else taxpayer dollars are being spent frivolously, and for activities unrelated to Council business.

On that note, I will end this blog with the same messaging that I began it with: I am committed to ongoing transparency, accountability, and constant communication. Ward 1 residents have a strong voice and want to be heard. I hear you and I will keep listening. 

It’s time for a fresh perspective.

Please feel free to contact me at any time in regards to this or any other issue by e-mailing info@Ben4Ward1.com or via Twitter at @Ben4Ward1.

Thank you,

Ben Proulx

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