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Nov 13, 2010 Tri City News

When does a budget get too big?

When it comes to Metro Vancouver, Port Moody Coun. Mike Clay says it's when the regional government's spending is increasing by $33 million and much of it is for unnecessary items such as media relations, corporate costs and "international engagement."

Clay attended Metro's budget board meeting Oct. 29, where he voted against the regional government's 2011 budget, which is growing from $570 million to $603 million a 5.8% increase.

He presented a breakdown at Tuesday's PoMo council meeting to shed light on some of the big cost drivers.

Metro's utility function will see the 2011 water budget go from $200 million to $222 million, an 11% increase, while sewage services are going up $183 to $190 million (5% increase).

Waste diversion efforts are working, bringing down the solid waste budget from $100 million to $95 million but that function's fixed costs mean the tipping fee will increase 18%, from $82 to $97 per tonne.

Other regional district services such as 911, air quality, regional parks and labour relations are growing from $51 million to $60 million, a 16.5% increase.

But Clay took particular issue with the corporate allocation budget, which assigns costs for communications, finance, human resources and administration to each department.

Corporate costs for 2011 total $47.2 million, with some of the most significant increases for aboriginal relations (at $269,000, it's an 80% increase) and communications and multimedia (at $2.9 million, a 38% increase). Media relations is costing nearly $400,000, a 76% increase.

Another concern for Clay are Metro's boards and committees, slated to cost $2.1 million next year (a 45% increase since 2009), with nearly $300,000 going to "international engagement."

Clay said that at a time when PoMo council isn't taking its scheduled salary increase or giving out community grants because of the tough economy, Metro's 45% board budget increase is unacceptable.

"Sometimes you sit there in a meeting and you realize it's just for the sake of being in a meeting and you look around at the 15 other people in the room who are all being paid $350 to sit there and you think, 'Wow, this is crazy,'" Clay said.

At the board meeting Clay intended to propose several amendments eliminate the international engagement item and reduce the budgets for boards and committees, aboriginal relations (by not implementing a new position), communications/multi-media and media relations.

"After discussion, it became clear that the board was not prepared to consider amendments to the budget at this point," Clay wrote in his report.

In total, Metro's 2011 budget will cost the average household $513, up $44 or 9.4%, from this year.

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