As Councillor Brad Clark pointed out, the idea of increasing Councillors’ office budgets to improve service to constituents is not necessarily a bad idea. However, the optics of the proposal raises concern. Downtown Councillor Cameron Kroetsch and Dundas Councillor Alex Wilson authored a motion that would raise all councillor office budgets to $375,000. The result would be to increase the overall office budget for councillors by $1.3 Million or roughly 30 percent more than the 2022 budget. That the first piece of business advanced by two rookie councillors, 15 days on the job, is to raise their office budgets seems tone deaf when advanced in the middle of budget deliberations that paint a bleak picture for Hamilton taxpayers. Hamilton homeowners, many of whom are operating with variable rate mortgages, have encountered staggering increases in their monthly payments in the past year. For those on fixed incomes there is growing concern by some that they may not be able to keep their homes.
Councillor Kroetsch said the proposal was supported by his research and the said, in effect “if we tell staff this is what we want, they will find the money,” which, while true, does not instill confidence that this new, activist council fully understands the expectations of the people who voted them in. While voters at the door no doubt complained about not being able to reach their councillor, (when haven’t they?) it doesn’t necessarily follow that they are in favour of an increase in taxes. It’s not the amount of money–its the look of the thing.
If the additional funds are going to be used to further insulate councillors from their constituents (as one constituent complained about in a letter to the editor, claiming e mails are not answered and his councillor’s phone does not take messages), that is not a good use of scarce resources. This may come as a shock to some members of council but the public expects councillors to personally involve themselves in mundane constituent issues, like garbage, noise, policing and snow removal, not delegate responsibility to staff while they contemplate the ‘big picture.’ It is a job that involves getting one’s hands dirty from time to time. Councillor Kroetsch plans to tweak the proposal and present it at the next council meeting. Hopefully Council can find a way to defer the proposal until an evidence-based solution that takes into account the councillor’s activity can be developed. As an old boss once said, ‘If you want a quick answer…it’s NO.’
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