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Council limits travel budget

Mike W. Bryant
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Jan 27/06) - Fearing a public backlash after two years of tax increases, city council has trimmed this year's travel budget.

Councillors voted Monday to stick with a $43,650 budget even if it meant some councillors may have to pass up on trips, said Coun. Dave McCann.

Two weeks ago, council was handed a re-calculated travel budget that showed an increase to $52,565.

"What it boils down to is a matter of perception," said McCann at a council committee meeting, Monday morning.

"We want to make sure we're living within our means like we asked the public to."

McCann said the travel budget increased after what he calls some "lazy budgeting" by administration.

"It was sort of done you know by phoning travel (agencies)," McCann later said in an interview.

"(Prices) tend to fluctuate a lot. If you can pick up a sale or reserve a month or two in advance suddenly the price goes down.

"I guess what administration was trying to say in their defence was that the $52,000 wasn't necessarily an accurate figure."

Councillors wondered whether it was worthwhile sending a large contingent to conferences like the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in Montreal this June, or the NWT Association of Communities meeting in Fort Liard, also in June.

The Federation annual general meeting will see the mayor and four councillors in attendance at an estimated cost of $17,276, while the Fort Liard meeting has the mayor and five councillors scheduled for an estimated $12,212.

"It's not going to hurt us to send one less person." said Woytuik.

Coun. Blake Lyons, on the other hand, said a large presence, particularly at the Federation meeting, has convinced federal politicians in the past that they mean business.

He pointed to previous successes by the Federation in securing a GST rebate deal for communities, plus additional funding from the federal gas tax for infrastructure building.

"The numbers impressed the federal politicians," said Lyons.

Council has already cancelled plans to attend some conferences, notably the Cordilleran Mining Industry conference in B.C., the NWT Business Coalition meeting, and an unconfirmed Northern Forum.

McCann said council has managed to stay under-budget for travel in recent years, and in all likelihood, a few councillors will drop their travel plans as the dates get closer.

"A councillor may plan on going, but in his business life suddenly, his boss says: 'You better get over to Iqaluit,' and suddenly he's not going to Montreal," said McCann.