Sylvan Lake Council pay to increase due to tax changes

The Federal Government passed a bill in March 2017 to eliminate tax exemption for elected officials

Sylvan Lake’s Town Council voted to increase their pay as of the new year to offset what would be a 10 per cent decrease issued by the Federal Government.

At Monday night’s regular meeting, the mayor and council voted five to one in favour of increasing the pay of municipally elected officials.

Mayor Sean McIntyre voted against increasing pay to maintain the same take home pay for the town’s elected officials.

“This is something I have wrestled with for the last few weeks,” said McIntyre., who added he ultimately couldn’t get behind it.

In March 2017, the Federal Government passed Bill C-44, which effectively eliminates the one-third tax exemption for elected officials. The bill goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.

Danny Scott, human resource manager with the town, says the elimination would mean roughly a 10 per cent decrease in the salaries for mayor and council.

Scott and administration contacted four members of the 2016 Citizen Council Remuneration Committee to discuss possible avenues.

“The committee said it was unfair and unjust,” Scott said to Council. “Actually they used ‘not cricket.’”

Ultimately the committee members suggested “making it right” by making Council’s take home pay similar to what it currently is.

Municipalities in Canada, and their budgets, have benefited from the tax exemption since 1954.

CAO Wally Ferris said the impact of the budget, roughly $28,000 would be fairly small when looking at the larger picture.

“It is unfortunate we have to bring this to Council mid-term, but it is something we have to do,” said Ferris.

Sylvan Lake is not the only municipality to vote for the change. Red Deer City Council also voted to increase their remuneration on Nov. 26. Similar communities like Stony Plain, Strathmore, High River, Lacombe, and Camrose have either chosen to increase wage to make up the difference or are still reviewing budgets and will soon make a decision.

Members of the 2016 Citizen Council Remuneration Committee said it wasn’t fair to ask the members of council to “personally absorb” the wage decrease “because of a federal decision.”

“What the Federal Government has imposed is a 10 per cent cut. What have you done to deserve that?” Scott asked of Council before the vote.

Ferris argued the increase to the pay isn’t really an increase. Instead he called it maintaining the status quo, as mayor and council would see the same take home pay.

Before Council voted on the increase, Ferris asked the members to think carefully about the prospect and what it truly means.

“[The increase] isn’t just about this council, it is for the future councils as well,” Ferris said.

Mayor McIntyre said the change in remuneration is imposed by the Federal Government, and is a sensitive issue for all councils, not just in Sylvan Lake.

“I think that when our prime minister, Mr. Trudeau, and the Federal Finance Minister Mr. Morneau were looking at their tax changes, I think they saw municipalities as an easy target,” McIntyre said.

“This is a decision that is faced across the province and across the country, and it’s a very difficult one for Council.”

As of Jan. 1, 2019 the monthly honorarium for the mayor will be increased by $606.02 from $4,069.21 to $4,675.23.

The monthly honorarium for councillors will also increase from $1,932.40 to $2,218.38, a difference of $285.98 each.

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