Councillors meeting as committee of the whole gave themselves a raise, but it is not clear whether they will actually have more money in their pockets.
Council voted unanimously to approve their own remuneration rates, as per policy. It states that council remuneration “shall be determined annually” by council during consideration of the financial plan, with rates based on those in other municipalities of comparable size.
Mayor Fred Haynes will see his remuneration rise to $116,4492.22 from $102,877.39, an increase of 13.22 per cent. Each of the eight councillors will see their respective remuneration rise to $46,047.95 from $41,309.50, an increase of 11.47 per cent.
Coun. Judy Brownoff said that the increase might leave the public with an unfavorable impression of council. “The media will say ‘how dare you raise your own salaries.’” But she added that the increase follows council policy and reflects changes to federal tax law.
“I get it — we are uncomfortable, but there is a policy,” she said.
Federal income tax changes effective Jan. 1 mean that members of council must declare their entire remuneration as taxable. The federal government previously exempted one-third of their remuneration on the assumption that elected officials incur expenses throughout their working year.
Councillors must now collect and submit expense receipts, a process that could eventually net councillors more money than they would have under the previous rules.
Coun. Karen Harper, for her part, predicted she will eventually end up with more money.
“On a totally objective sense, this is too much,” she said. “There are of course many other factors that go into this. I’m not going to belabour the point, other than to say that I’m disappointed that other communities didn’t look at the issue from the point of view of, where is the right landing spot in the middle of all of this.”
She later added that she neither opposes the increase nor the fact that councillors are getting raises. “My concern is how do we get to what is the right amount,” she said.
Other members of council were more comfortable with the increase. Coun. Ned Taylor questioned whether councillors will actually come out ahead, noting that circumstances will vary from person to person. This current group of councillors will actually end up with less than the members of the former council, prior to submitting their receipts, he said.
Mayor Fred Haynes picked up on this point in questioning the federal government’s move. Councillors who are not diligent could end up with less, he said, adding that this new process could be time-consuming.
The issue of remuneration will appear before council at a later date, as staff are preparing changes to the policy. These changes could bump up remuneration rates automatically.
While council currently votes on its own rates, chief administrative officer Paul Thorkelsson said the policy actually remains silent on the question of whether councillors must approve their own rates.
Coun. Colin Plant, who said he wants to take the politics out of this question, points out the Capital Regional District automatically lifts rates as part of its budget process, drawing on cost-of-living figures instead of comparative figures from other municipalities.
The increases still require final approval.