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No consultants hired by Vancouver mayor yet, according to expense disclosures

Trips to Texas and Toronto comprised almost all of Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim's $20K in discretionary travel costs for the first half of 2023
Vancouver City Hall expense disclosure offer some insight into priorities, travel and operations

Mayor Ken Sim and one of his top aides charged Vancouver taxpayers more than $16,000 to travel to the South by Southwest music and tech festival in Austin, Texas for a week last March. 

It was ABC leader Sim’s first major trip on city business since becoming mayor by a landslide in last October’s civic election. He attended with senior advisor David Grewal as part of the B.C. delegation led by Brenda Bailey, the NDP’s jobs, economic development and innovation minister.

Sim and acting chief of staff Mellisa Morphy charged almost $4,000 to travel to the Big City Mayors Caucus meeting in Toronto in May. 

The two trips comprised almost all of the mayor’s office’s $20,360.59 in discretionary travel costs shown in the city’s open data report for the first half of the year. 

In total, Sim and his staff spent $461,826.72, of which $365,711.50 was for political staff salaries. 

Sim also received a $3,863.72 auto allowance. 

Sim, the 10 councillors and their staff cost a combined $1.27 million out of the $3.05 million 2023 budgets, according to the spreadsheet. 

While Sim’s office spent nothing on consultant services (compared to $98,472 during former mayor Kennedy Stewart’s last 10 months in office), there were 40 charges totalling $3,820.93 for food for meetings and almost $300 in meeting supplies since last November. The list also includes $2,042.41 for entertainment expenses in a hosting capacity from December to May. The spreadsheet includes dates, but not details about the meetings. 

The $1,231.63 for subscriptions to The Globe and Mail and Vancouver Sun was exceeded by $2,018.06 for red envelopes and candy handed out at the Lunar New Year Parade in Chinatown. In February 2022 alone, Stewart spent almost $9,700 from his communications budget on political ads carried by five Vancouver radio clusters. 

Meanwhile, ABC Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung is the biggest spender so far on council at $22,486.24, just ahead of fellow caucus member Peter Meiszner’s $22,392.05. 

Kirby-Yung’s $5,697.90 in travel expenses are also the highest. That included $4,250.44 for the May Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Toronto and $1,327.46 for the Lower Mainland Local Government Association conference in Harrison Hot Springs. Coun. Lisa Dominato racked up $4,007.53 for attending FCM board meetings in March in Ajax, Ont., and the May conference in Toronto. 

OneCity’s Christine Boyle reported the least expenses at $5,050.87. 

Seven councillors claimed $12,500 each for a political assistant. 

Each one is allotted $30,000 annually for discretionary expenses and $9,858.58 for local expenses. Almost 70% spent on councillors so far ($557,926.24) is for their salaries.

Sim’s salary is $185,595. For councillors, their base pay is $91,879. Elected officials are also paid a $3,048 annual supplement and bonuses ranging from $1,237 per month when they serve as acting mayor to $3,402 per month for being deputy mayor or duty councillor. 

City hall is running on a $1.97 billion operating budget this year, after a 10.7-per-cent tax increase. 

In April, Sim appointed a budget task force to review operating and capital budgets and recommend efficiencies. It is supposed to report in October. 

The ABC majority city council’s standing committee on city finance and services is scheduled to receive a report from senior bureaucrats on Sept. 13 who propose adopting a laundry list of new or significantly increased fees for business licences, parking and other services. 

The estimated $15.2 million in new revenue would offset the increase in property taxes required to balance the 2024 budget.