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City council tops up salaries

St. Albert councillors voted Monday to top up their salaries to the tune of a combined $51,900 to stave off the effects of an impending federal tax change. As of Jan.
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Stanley Haroun presents to St. Albert city councillors regarding renumeration during council meeting in chambers at St. Albert Place November 26, 2018.

St. Albert councillors voted Monday to top up their salaries to the tune of a combined $51,900 to stave off the effects of an impending federal tax change.

As of Jan. 1, 2019, municipal councillors will no longer receive a one-third federal tax exemption on their salaries. In St. Albert, that meant councillors were facing a $3,900 hit to their annual take-home pay, while the mayor would have taken home $12,700 less.

Monday's decision, which passed in a 5-2 vote with Coun. Ken MacKay and Coun. Ray Watkins voting against it, means council members' take-home pay will remain the same as what it currently is.

Councillors will now make $51,390 as of Jan. 1, 2019, up $5,400 from their current base salary; while the mayor's base salary will be increased by $19,500 to $131,920.

Watkins said he had known the tax change was coming, adding he felt uncomfortable topping up his salary.

"Tax laws change all the time throughout life," he said. "Lots of people are in situations where tax laws change and they end up taking home less money or a different amount of money, and they don't have that opportunity to just change their salary to compensate for that."

MacKay, who said he was uncomfortable talking about his own salary and wanted to consult with the public, introduced a motion to consult with members of a former committee which weighed in on council pay increases in 2016. That motion failed in a 4-3 vote with MacKay, Watkins and Hansen voting in favour.

Stanley Haroun, who was the vice-chair of that 2016 committee, spoke to councillors before their debate on Monday and said he personally was in favour of councillors topping up their salaries to compensate for tax changes.

Haroun said when the committee met in 2016 to discuss remuneration for council members, it wasn't aware of the upcoming tax changes. Regardless, he said had he known about the tax cuts, he would have voted for a further increase for council.

Brodhead said he wants to honour the salary recommendations the committee made in 2016.

“The reality of it is, the community asks council to do a particular job. A committee of citizens decided what this job is worth and I think we should honour it,” he said.

He noted council members would not be taking home more money through the decision.

“It’s not a raise, it's simply a change in who bears the full cost of governance in St. Albert.”

In 2016, the committee found council members were working between 20 and 30 hours per week, although Haroun noted some council members reported they were working up to 40 hours per week for what is still considered a part time job.

“I would hearken to say it's on the upper end of the hours per week,” Coun. Jacquie Hansen said Monday, adding she would not be able to pay her bills just with her council salary without the financial support of her husband.

She said she doesn’t believe public servants should be paid grand amounts of money, but that “compensation should be fair for the time that you put into your work.”

Haroun said one of the previous council's members had noted their partner had to work two full-time jobs to make ends meet because the council member did not have enough time to take on a job outside of council.

Hansen noted because council members are public servants, she would like to take the decision to the public for an outside look at the changes to their compensation, which she said is important for transparency.

In the end, the majority of council voted against taking the decision back to the former committee's members because they had already heard from Haroun, were comfortable compensating council with the salary proposed by the committee in 2016 and because other municipalities were topping up their salaries across the province.

Coun. Natalie Joly said she, too, was uncomfortable discussing her own salary but said her discomfort was not enough to delay the decision when they already had enough information.

According to city staff, nine municipalities across the province surveyed by city staff voted to top up their salary without going to a committee, while six voted to top up salaries but involved some type of committee. Two voted for no salary top-up.

Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

About the Author: Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for Great West Media based in St. Albert, Alta.
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