More money for next group of town councillors

The next crop of Sylvan Lake councillors will be paid more than the current group.

The next crop of Sylvan Lake councillors will be paid more than the current group.

Councillors, at their meeting Monday evening, unanimously approved the recommendations of a citizen committee which examined how they’re paid.

That means the mayor’s monthly honorarium will increase to $3,000 and councillors will receive $1,500 per month. Both changes come into effect January 1st.

Currently the mayor receives a monthly fee of $2,494.15 and councillors receive $1,157.94.

Besides that elected officials receive additional money for attending a variety of meetings, are reimbursed for expenses and have a benefits package.

The increases in honorariums mean that while they’re “substantial, particularly on a percentage basis, … the increases still keep us slightly under the average,” according to a report by Danny Scott.

“The committee agreed that it was important to stay near the average, and when the benefits package amount is added to the monthly honorarium, Sylvan Lake is slightly above the total remuneration average.”

The estimated cost impact to the town represents a 20.3 per cent increase ($31,908.52) over last year’s council remuneration, according to Scott’s report.

Lani Rouillard, representing the committee, said they looked at a lot of statistics from comparable communities before making recommendations.

They reviewed benefits, expenses, special benefits, the need for a full time mayor, meeting reimbursement and monthly honorariums.

“The committee felt some of the meetings in the $50 category required additional preparation and analysis, people had to read through a lot of material,” she said, indicating they recommended an increase to $60 per meeting for planning and appeal board meetings.

They also felt strongly that meetings should be paid on an attendance basis, “to reward councillors” attending more meetings.

“Did you take into account where meetings are being held, such as Red Deer which is one hour travel time?” asked Councillor Dale Plante.

Rouillard said they believed that was part of a policy they were not asked to review. She added that one-third of the honorarium is tax exempt which is a form of compensation.

Asked by Councillor Laverne Asselstine if they considered “out of pocket costs” such as fuel for driving around town or costs of internet access.

“That’s within the context of the honorarium and the one-third tax exemption,” responded Rouillard.

He also questioned the rationale behind now allowing councillors to opt out of the benefits program and be paid instead. “I question whether it’s fair. If I want to opt out why should the town be paying for a benefit plan when it’s not necessary.”

“That could pose a serious detriment to the town plan if people opt out and take cash,” said Rouillard.

When councillors got into discussion after her report, Asselstine stated the whole policy needs to be reopened. “I don’t like the fact we have no increase over the next four years. We’ve fallen significantly behind because we’re on a three year review policy, except for cost of living increases,” he said.

The town’s policy states a citizen review committee will be struck before each election to examine remuneration.

With terms changing from three to four years in this fall’s election, that means the next review would be four years from now. Asselstine also said he didn’t understand why the percentage increase for councillors was “significantly more” than for the mayor.

Councillor Dale Plante wondered if there is a mechanism to do a two year review because of the four year term “not because of the money, but also because of jobs being added.” He also felt it was unfair that some meetings, such as those of water and wastewater commissions, are reimbursed at the rate of $120 per half day or $240 per full day, while other meetings such as Central Alberta Economic Partnership and Community Futures are reimbursed at $50 per meeting.

“I’m happy with the way it is,” said Councillor Ken MacVicar. “If this is accepted it equates to a 20.3 per cent increase — over four years that’s five per cent per year plus 1-2 per cent for cost of living.” He cautioned politically that’s not going to be favourably accepted in the community. But because it’s an arm’s length committee made up of citizens who recommend for the next council and not the current council, he didn’t want to change the process.

“Put things in perspective. People running for council in October will have in their package the amount of money, compensation they will get. They can make decisions whether they want to run or not.”

“The committee clearly outlined we were 12-15 per cent behind because the increase was below average,” said Plante. “We’re still under average, if we’re asking for average what is the problem. It’s not an issue about personal gain, it’s about getting properly compensated.”

While Asselstine agreed the committee had “done a great job” he said, “the process is wrong, the policy is wrong, the policy has to be amended, I don’t think it reflects the way it should be.”

“What is very apparent to me,” said Mayor Susan Samson, “to be as correct as we can be, as arm’s length as we can be, we need to make these decisions for the next council. I’m not interested in reviewing midstream in the term because then I’d be giving myself an increase and I know that’s not palatable.” However she added, it only takes four votes “if council is not happy they can open it up”.

“This is an independent committee, I’m not sure it’s even fair to discuss this,” said Councillor Rick Grimson. He added, “there is a sense of civic duty here. If you need more money get an outside job.”

The five members of the citizen committee included Rouillard, Karen Herbst, Neil Evans, Lynda Sills Fiedler and Teresa Borrowman.