The Thompson-Nicola Regional District last week approved a new board expense policy, following another contentious debate about “double-dipping” into taxpayers’ pockets.
The draft policy allows directors to expense a daily per diem rate of $100 for meals, $25 for breakfast, $30 for lunch and/or $45 for dinner. Concerns arose, however, over initial wording that suggested a director cannot claim the per diem rate for meals that are included as part of an event “except where the director did not partake in the meal.”
Mel Rothenburger, director for Electoral Area P (Rivers and Peaks), said that clause suggested directors could buy a meal elsewhere if they didn’t like what was being provided at the event and then claim the per diem rate. He suggested the wording be amended to not allow any per diem at all when a meal is provided.
“If we allow this to take place…it really sends a poor message to taxpayers,” said Rothenburger, noting the meal would be paid for through event fees and then again when the per diem is claimed.
Barriere Mayor Ward Stamer strongly disagreed with Rothenburger, saying he didn’t believe directors would claim a per diem just because it was available.
“I find it insulting that a director would actually insinuate that we’re actually trying to do that,” Stamer said.
Stamer added he expects meals to be acceptable at events, but if there are concerns, such as allergies or dietary restrictions, directors should be able to purchase a meal elsewhere. He also noted an amendment to require a receipt in those types of situations was defeated during the last meeting.
Electoral Area E (Bonaparte Plateau) Director Sally Watson noted while current directors may not eat elsewhere and claim a per diem now, this has happened in the past and the board is making policies for the future.
Ashcroft Mayor Barbara Roden said it’s impossible for a policy to list every possible situation, and there will always be someone who cannot eat a provided meal. However, she said she was “disgusted” by the notion that a director would choose to eat somewhere else when a meal is provided – and paid for by the taxpayer in the form of registration fees -simply because they didn’t like what was offered.
“I’m reading article after article about food insecurity,” she said. “I spoke with the director of our food bank in Ashcroft who said in the last two weeks she has signed up eight new people, and I would suggest that anyone who feels that the continental breakfast spread at SILGA or UBCM is not quite good enough, and they’re going to go out and charge something else to the taxpayers, should maybe go out and talk to the people who are crowding our food banks for whom this would be a massive fantastic spread.”
Roden added it was important to distinguish the difference between those who are unable to eat a meal due to dietary or health restrictions and those who are unwilling.
She amended Rothenburger’s amendment by adding that a director could choose to not partake in a provided meal in order to accommodate diet and health restrictions.
Roden’s amendment was passed, with Merritt Mayor Linda Brown and Electoral Area A Director Carol Schaffer opposed.
The board unanimously voted in favour of the TNRD board expense policy as amended.
The policy can be viewed in the June 16 agenda on the TNRD website.