Wednesday, February 25, 2004

City hall cafeteria's free eats rile taxpayers

JONATHAN SHER, Free Press Reporter 2004-02-24 03:51:13

Taxpayers angered at subsidizing meals at London city hall were nauseated yesterday to find out politicians get a free lunch -- make that free dinners. The same cafeteria that ran up a yearly deficit of $57,000 serves free meals to city council members attending evening meetings.

The free food is also for managers who are asked to attend evening meetings, so on a meeting night there might be 25 to 30 politicians and staff enjoying a meal on the taxpayers' tab.

"It's outrageous. It's insane," said Roger Eaves, who, like most Londoners, is bracing for a tax increase projected at 11 per cent.

Served on the 12th floor in a dining room that may have the best view in the city, the evening dinners aren't budget affairs. Diners are offered a choice of three hot entrees you might find at a restaurant that charges more than $15 a plate.

That, along with unlimited salad, non-alcoholic drinks and dessert make for a spread not found in the typical city cafeteria.

"You know what I ate today in (my) cafeteria?" said Eaves, who's attending courses at Fanshawe College.

"A tuna fish sandwich for $3."

Simple dinners are provided free to trustees with the Thames Valley District school board -- each person is given a plate.

"Everyone is given the same thing," said board spokesperson Chris Dennett.

The board doesn't pump money into the operation -- it gets money back to help pay for food equipment and student services from Chartwells Food Services, which was selected after a competitive tender process.

Other public and private institutions in London say they don't directly subsidize their cafeterias, though they do provide a facility and equipment.

London police, for example, don't spend a dime in a cafeteria run by Red Carpet, Const. Paul Martin said. "They run their own show and there's no subsidizing."

Open from about 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., the cafeteria helps police and staff whose chaotic work demands can leave little time for a meal, he said.

"That's a great benefit," he said.

The cafeteria is also highly valued at Labatt Brewing Co. Ltd., spokesperson Bob Chant said.

The fact the company provides the building, equipment and basic overhead allows it to provide workers good food at reasonable prices.

"We don't subsidize," he said.

Other employers' experience may prove instructive to council, Controller Russ Monteith said. "All these options will be looked at to reduce (the deficit), maybe to eliminate it," he said.

City staff didn't answer questions yesterday about how the cafeteria is operated and what contributes to the deficits.

(These guys sound strangely like Liberals.....)

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