The councilor expenses and public relations spending is being scrutinized by the public, and some are calling the amounts being spent excessive while others defend this spending as a necessary cost of being a council member. In February an FOIP request was submitted by Fort McMurray Today to the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. The request was for the expenses in 2015 for the councillors and the mayor so that their expenses and public relations spending could be examined. Members of the council have three categories of spending that are budgeted for. Every council member receives a $10,000 budget for public relations, and this can include tickets to events and other public relations spending. Business travel is another budget category for expenses, and the third category is conference travel.
The councilor expenses, especially the public relations spending by each member of the council, seems excessive to some tax payers. Some also question the decision to allow each council member to determine how to spend their budgeted funds. According to Fort McMurray Mayor Melissa Blake this was a decision made many years in the past. Blake explained “The budget is there, and you can spend 100 per cent of it without consequence. And if you spend zero of it, typically that’s a choice, sometimes it’s a philosophy.” Councillor McGrath spent more than $14,000 on public relations, and he explained his spending during a recent interview by saying “I use my public relations budget to support many groups in the community. Whether it be a prize for a kids’ golf tournament, whether it be a prize for a sick kid. So I use that budget, absolutely. At a fundraiser for a lady with cancer, I had a suitcase, and I filled it with different things branded with the municipality’s logo on it for an auction item.”