If City Council is on a crusade to find every dollar they can save taxpayers, here's a suggestion: eliminate free lunches for City Councillors and senior "sunshine list" staff.
While the exact saving are not known, the City does not voluntarily disclose Councillors' spending, the last time a Freedom of Information request was filed for meal expenses, Councillors were spending an average of $33,000 per year on free lunches for their meetings.
On March 9, 2011, The Hamilton Spectator revealed the result of their FOI request:
The city has spent more than $100,000 on free lunches for councillors and senior staff over the past three years.
About $33,000 is spent every year on sandwiches, pizza, coffee, tea and cookies for councillors and senior city staff during long meetings at city hall.
Between 2008 and 2010, that cost taxpayers $100,235.71.
Council members say the free lunches allow them to continue working throughout the day instead of breaking for lunch.
However, other municipalities - including Guelph, Toronto and Windsor - have recently cut the perk in order to trim their budgets.
It's hard to justify well paid Councillors ($90,385/yr), senior staff on the "sunshine list", and the Mayor ($171,441/yr) billing taxpayers for their lunches.
Even more so when you consider that the average two-earner household in Hamilton makes less than a single Councillor's salary.
Yet, despite increasing their salaries this term, and claims the City cannot afford to continue funding many social services, City Council clings onto their taxpayer funded lunches like a spoiled child does a candy bar.
There was an attempt to end Council's free lunches in 2011, it failed. Since that time, lunches have continued to be paid for by taxpayers.
Taxpayer Funded Lunches, Social Services, and "Protecting the Taxpayer"
Since 2011, Council has continued the practice of charging taxpayers for their lunches, burying it around numerous budget lines, making it impossible to determine how much they are spending without filing a Freedom of Information request.
This year, without Council being diligent with funding social service increases, their taxpayer funded lunches must be viewed in light of other priorities.
Limited Social Services Funding
Numerous social service agencies have asked Hamilton City Council to fund their programs following changes to provincial funding formulas and the end of some municipal granting streams.
Two of the most recent requests came from the Good Shepherd for their Notre Dame programs for homeless and at-risk youth, and the YWCA for their women's transitional housing.
Council turned down these requests citing two primary reasons: that the City cannot afford to increase property taxes to fund the services, and that social services such as these should be funded by the provincial and federal governments.
If Council had stuck to the later point, this column wouldn't have the peg it does.
"Protecting the Taxpayer"
Politicians cannot help themselves during the budget process, they have to posture and puff their chests about being diligent with tax dollars.
"Protecting the taxpayer" is the favourite buzzword of City Council. The cupboard is bare, there is no funding available for many competing public interests, and the City does not have frills which could be cut to reallocate resources to other interests.
"Protecting the taxpayer" implies that public needs some form of protecting from social service requests.
If we're going to talk about "protecting the taxpayer", maybe it's time to get stop politicians from taking our money for their lunches.
End Free Lunches, Run More Efficient Meetings
It's time for Council to end their free lunches, there are no other comparable municipalities in Ontario where free lunches are a Council perk. (Comparable being municipalities where Councillors are full-time employees.)
The lunch subsidy for Council works out to just over $2,000 per Councillor. ($33,000/16)
The practice of the City Councils in Burlington, Ottawa, Toronto, and Vaughan is to take a mid-day recess for lunch and to give Councillors an opportunity to address non-committee business to enable them to focus during Council meetings.
How many people could be housed with the estimated $33,000 annually Council spends on their lunches?
It's time for City Council to bring their own lunch money to work.