Lantzville to consider reducing size of council

NANAIMO – Coun. Jennifer Millbank will put motion on the table to cut council by two seats.

Lantzville politicians will consider putting council seats on the chopping block as part of a push to save taxpayers money.

Coun. Jennifer Millbank put councillors on notice Monday that she will be bringing forward a motion in February to reduce the size of council from seven to five. Millbank says the rural council’s make up is an “anomaly” thanks to its incorporation as a district. While the municipality is the size of a town which only requires a total of five people at the council table, its geographic area and designation as a district requires it to elect seven.

According to Millbank, the district has the same representation as an urban centre of 50,000 people. She questions if council’s current size is needed when most of the community’s geographic area is under-developed. With a mandate to save taxpayers money, she argues reducing council could eliminate an estimated $25,000 a year – the equivalent of 1.5 per cent in taxes – and reduce staff workload.

The change is supported by Mayor Jack de Jong, who agrees there would be a direct financial benefit, but Coun. Denise Haime is concerned about putting decision making in the hands of five and believes there are better ways to cut expenses.

The move to reduce the size of council would require politicians to pass the first three readings of a new bylaw six months before the election and seek the approval of the voting public.

If passed, it would take effect in 2017.

“The big thing about having seven people on council is you encourage more people to get involved … you get better representation because you have a better diversity of opinion on council,” Haime said, adding every person on council could be doing something for the benefit of the community.

“If we were really sincere [about cutting] money, why aren’t we looking at our own house? Why don’t we cut the conference budget, our discretionary budget? There are so many things we spend money on that we don’t need to.”

The proposal is expected to land on the table next month, leading up to the civic election in November.

According to Millbank, a smaller council could change the dynamics of successful candidates, which would have to win broader community support than they do now. In previous elections it appeared seats could be won with 15 per cent of resident support, she said.

But the first-term councillor said the motion is mostly an effort to find more tax savings and give residents a chance to consider if it’s worthwhile to spend money on “two extra politicians.”

Each councillor was paid approximately $9,194 in 2012 on top of expenses that ranged from $1,795 to $3,488. Last year’s data is not yet available.

“Lantzville is a new municipality,” Millbank said. “We’ve had the chance to go through a few election cycles and I think it’s time for the community to take a look and see if the council size is appropriate.”

De Jong’s platform in the 2011 election campaign included looking at the size of council, which he felt over-represented the community. The Town of Qualicum, for example, has double the population with five politicians.

The mayor told the News Bulletin he still believes in the need to consider the number of seats on council and believes there could be financial benefits and more concrete discussion with fewer politicians.

“I’ve put the pluses and minuses on paper and the net sum of it is we have a lot of representation in the community. Too much,” he said. “My feeling, unless council convinces me otherwise, is to put it on the election ballot.”

Nanaimo News Bulletin