Council tweaks salary rates, blame changes made by feds

Council vents frustration over the elimination of a tax-exemption benefit to local elected officials

City council has voted to top up salaries for mayor and councillors, blaming changes made by the federal government that eliminated a one-third exemption of personal income tax for municipal elected officials.

The amount of the increase was based on how much was lost due to the changes made in the 2017 federal budget.

Breaking that down, the existing salary for a councillor was $21,176, of which $7,058 was previously tax-free. Going forward, given the changes from the feds, the new salary is $23,700, $2,552 of which was required to compensate for the loss of the tax-exemption status.

For the mayoral position, the existing salary is $58,082, $19,360 of which was previously tax-exempt. Moving forward, $6,999 was added to top up the tax-exempt loss, bringing the new salary to $65,000.

The increases have been included in the 2019-2023 five year financial plan, according to a city staff report.

The vote was nearly unanimous, with councillor Wayne Price the lone holdout against the changes.

Councillor Wes Graham lashed out against the federal government for the elimination of the tax-exemption benefit, accusing the federal Liberals of making municipal officials ‘scapegoats’ by having to make up for the losses.

“Looking at our renumeration, a lot of us, maybe not all of us, budget around what we make and now we’re going to get a drastic increase in taxes and the question begs…I look at it for myself, where do I pick up more hours?” said Graham.

“I work full-time as I can and I do this [council], there’s a ton of meetings and responsibility I do with this, how do I make up that extra money that I didn’t have to budget for before and now I have to try and budget for, because I had that, and now I don’t.

“…This isn’t us just saying, ‘we want more money,’ it’s the fact that we’ve lost money and we’re trying to get it back.”

A city staff report that looked at eight comparable communities noted six of them have made salary increases to compensate for the changes, while two more are currently reviewing the issue.

Mayor Pratt also took umbrage with the feds over the changes.

“The tax benefit wasn’t brought in as a gift to councillors and the mayor,” he said. “What it was brought in for was to compensate us on things that we do outside the normal duties as a mayor and councillor.”

Price, the lone vote against the increase, voiced his opposition to the measure, noting elected officials already receive a two per cent cost-of-living increase as well as a benefit package.

“I’ll be opposed to this motion,” Price said. “Everybody pays taxes on their earnings. It’s really insignificant, the amount, but I think it’s the principle of it. Everybody else in society pays full taxes from what they earn.”

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