Committee appointed to recommend pay rates for councillors, mayor

How they get paid became a topic of debate for town councillors again when they were asked to name members to a citizen committee

How they get paid became a topic of debate for town councillors again when they were asked to name members to a citizen committee on the subject at Monday night’s meeting.

Among those was whether the town’s mayor should be paid based on a full-time position instead of part-time.

Currently the mayor is paid an honorarium of $2,494 per month while councillors receive $1,157 per month. As well they receive $240 for full-day meetings, $120 for half-day meetings and $50 for council sanctioned meetings. They are also entitled to a benefits package which includes life insurance, health and dental coverage and accident and serious illness coverage similar to what’s provided to town staff.

Councillor Laverne Asselstine questioned what’s covered in the monthly honorarium, and suggested a straight-forward formula, similar to what was recently adopted by the City of Lacombe, where there’s one fee that includes all council work and it doesn’t vary from month-to-month based on the number and type of meetings a person attends.

He asked that the committee consider compensation for fuel costs for in-town travel and providing internet access to councillors.

The question of a penalty for those not attending council meetings was also raised.

Mayor Susan Samson spoke against a penalty. “I don’t feel in my two terms it was misused. I have not seen anyone not show up because of lack of interest or it didn’t fit their schedule. People around the table have different lives going on behind the scenes,” she said, adding she doesn’t expect people gainfully employed to take on daytime meetings. “We have to be respectful if we want people to sit around this table, that they can go to work.”

Certain boards and committees that councillors sit on are not included in the list, stated Councillor Dale Plante, noting it should be revised.

“I hope the committee will look at what point we need a more full-time or in-depth commitment from the mayor,” he added. “It’s legitimate to look and see the workload.”

Mayor Susan Samson countered that they shouldn’t look at the workload she’s undertaken because that has been a personal choice. “It’s not a full-time job,” she said. “I think statistics will show communities our size don’t have a full-time mayor.”

However, Councillor Sean McIntyre argued, “I think our size as a town and the regional aspect, the mayor should be expected to serve full-time. As a policy the mayor should be accessible and the wage paid for the mayor’s position shouldn’t be limiting. The time has come for Sylvan Lake to make that consideration … Without a full-time mayor we limit the capacity of those who could serve the community because of the pay.”

Yet Samson took the opposite opinion. By requiring a full-time mayor, she felt the town could lose some qualified candidates who are working.

“For me it’s not about pay, it’s about capacity,” countered McIntyre. “I don’t think the mayor’s position should be limited to people who are wealthy or retired. There are many people out there who don’t fit into those categories but would be good people.”

Betty Osmond, the town’s chief administrative officer, suggested councillors submit lists of things that need to be considered and they would be passed on to the citizen committee.

“I sometimes wonder if the complexities we’re talking about are beyond the expertise of a committee,” stated Asselstine. “Maybe we should seek professional help … I sometimes wonder if a citizen committee is the right avenue.”

Current town policy states a committee should be formed to make recommendations in every election year based on criteria outlined.

Following discussion, councillors named Lani Rouillard, Karen Herbst, Neil Evans, Lynda Fiedler and Teresa Borrowman to the committee.

According to the town’s latest audited financial Mayor Susan Samson received salary of $25,941 and benefits and allowances of $12,970 for a total of $38,911 in 2011.

Councillor Graham Parsons was the lowest paid councillor in 2011 with salary of $10,553 and benefits and allowances of $5,276 for a total of $15,829 while Asselstine was at the top of the list with salary of $13,340 and benefits and allowances of $6,670 for a total of $20,010.