Nearly a year after the last debate on catered meetings, free lunches are back on the chopping block for Victoria council.
Coun. Ben Isitt is calling for $10,000 – currently earmarked for catering council meetings in the 2021 draft budget – to be moved to the city’s Housing Reserve Fund, which offers grants for development and retention of affordable housing projects.
His motion says the redistribution would recognize “increased reliance on remote meetings and heightened economic hardship arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.” Isitt calls for the change to take place immediately.
“I think we’ve seen the extent of poverty in our community and hardship and I think introducing funds to affordable housing a top priority,” he told Black Press Media.
Isitt said staff who are feeling unwell can participate in meetings remotely, and the meeting themselves are often shorter now that the public participates virtually.
Before the pandemic, he said, there were instances where meetings ran up to 12 hours. Taking breaks could prolong those meetings.
The city’s catered lunches have been on the docket before. In 2012 council approved Coun. Marianne Alto’s proposal to eliminate catering in favor of cutting costs. At that time Isitt was one of two councillors who voted against an end to free council lunches.
In May 2019, catered lunches returned to city hall after council reduced breaks from 30 minutes to 15.
Last January, Alto motioned again to remove catered lunches from the budget and reallocate the $10,000 designated for feeding senior staff and councillors. In a special budgetary meeting that month, Alto defended her motion, saying that some matters come to “nickels and dimes.”
“I don’t think it’s reasonable for us to allow the taxpayer to pay for our lunch when in any other circumstances, when people want to get together in the workplace to provide the opportunity for collegial interaction, they bring their own brown bag lunches,” she said.
Isitt opposed the idea last January too, saying that it’s important to “break bread” with people in meetings and claiming that long hours, unpaid overtime and stress that make the lunches a “smart investment.” At that time, council voted six-to-two to reject Alto’s proposal.
Isitt’s new motion will be considered by council Thursday.
With files from Nicole Crescenzi.