Two Chatham-Kent councilors have filed municipal Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to get financial information they say they need to represent their constituents.
South Kent Coun. Frank Vercouteren has filed an FOI request for a line-by-line report on the Chatham Police Service budget, something he’s been trying to get for some time.
Chatham Coun. Michael Bondy has filed an FOI seeking detailed financial information about the operation of the John D. Bradley Convention Centre.
Vercouteren said his FOI is looking for amounts for travel, office expenses and more. “I voted against the police budget last year and I’ve been told police do not have to break down their budget,” he said. “That simply isn’t true and I’m curious to know why as an elected official – or a taxpayer for that matter – I don’t have the right to know where money is being spent. “
The councillor said although the vast majority of the budget consists of wages, there are still hundreds of thousands of dollars that are essentially in a lump sum category, as well as potential income that isn’t reported to council.
Vercouteren said he was reluctant to file the FOI, but isn’t prepared to go before voters without the information he believes they want.
“We spend nearly $30 million for police and when I’m asked details I don’t want to tell the people paying the bill they don’t deserve to know.”
He said Mayor Randy Hope and councillor Art Stirling who both sit on the Police Services Board have the information and can answer the questions if asked but won’t even share the information in closed session.
“I hate to say it but I wonder what it is they don’t want me or the public to know,” he said. “It doesn’t exactly give you a feeling of confidence.”
Chatham-Kent Police Services Board chair Pat Belanger said she finds the FOI request strange because council does receive detailed budget information.
She said information is presented to council in February as part of the budget process and Chief Dennis Poole has volunteered to meet with Coun. Vercouteren to discuss the matter.
Belanger said she believes CKPS budget information is on the police website. “I think it’s on there somewhere.”
Bondy, too, said he was unhappy with having to officially file to get the information he wants.
“This (the Bradley Convention Centre) is a fully taxpayer-funded facility which has lost thousands of dollars per day,” he said. “You would think providing the full financial information to council would be something that could only help. Perhaps we can see something that we may have some insight into and we could actually make suggestions. That’s the way it should work.”
Bondy said $655,000 was placed in this year’s base budget for the centre and an additional $265,000 will come from reserves.
“We’re budgeting more than $920,000 per year on the centre. The taxes on my house will pay the cost of the centre for about 20 hours. Then it’s on to the my neighbour’s house and so on.”
In June, it was anticipated the convention centre would have a $300,000 deficit this year. It lost $477,000 its first year and $345,000 in its second.
Bondy fears the real losses are much higher. “We (the municipality) use the centre for a lot of meetings. Are we paying for that? If so, it’s even worse since we’re in a sense subsidizing the centre even more.”
Bondy said his attempts to get information about the convention centre have been frustrating.
“I’ve been directed to links, instructed to watch council videos and have basically been given crumbs here and there.”
He said the information should be available at the push of a button.
“A detailed income statement listing our income and expenses would be a start. I want to know what and how much we’re paying for operations and I want to know who our customers are and what they’re paying.”
Bondy said the centre is an election issue, “as it should be. People want to know why we’re losing so much money, how the consultant’s economic spinoff estimate was out by more than $2 million and what we’re going to do about it. I’m not going to stand there and tell them they don’t have the right to know because I as a councilor can’t even get the information.
“Personally, I think the centre is never going to pay its way, but that doesn’t mean we can’t either minimize the loss or, if we can’t get the loss down to an acceptable level, find some other use for part of the building,” he said. “But that won’t happen as long as we’re kept in the dark.”
Chatham-Kent CAO Don Shropshire said legislation prevents him from commenting on specific FOI requests, but agreed to speak in general terms.
“I am aware of councillors who have brought forth their concerns about records for the Bradley Centre and police services in open session,” he said. “I have no problem providing information on the Bradley Centre other than proprietary information which the Compass Group (the firm managing the centre) has shared with us. The Police Services Board is responsible for its budget process.”
Mayor Randy Hope was contacted for comment last week but hadn’t responded to requests for an interview by press time.