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Town more Scrooge than Marley this holiday season

Posted on December 17, 2013 by Taber Times

Although they may still be visited by three ghosts, council’s decision to increase Christmas bonuses for employees this holiday season should at least ensure they won’t be haunted by the chained spirit of Jacob Marley.

All Dickensian references aside, discussion regarding the current monetary amount of the town’s Christmas bonus provided to employees had been initiated by previous council, and it had been suggested that consideration of an increase from $25 per employee to $50 per employee would be appropriate for the 2013 holiday season.

“This is a policy that’s been in place since 1999,” said CAO Greg Birch at the Dec. 3 special budget meeting of council. “It is a tradition of council to give a bonus to staff at Christmas time. It’s actually been in place since 1979 with the amount of $25 per employee. Previous council budgeted to increase this amount to $50, so you have it in the budget to increase it to $50 per person.”

An amount of $50 per employee was previously authorized within the 2013 budget, but the existing policy was not amended to reflect that authorization at that time.

Coun. Joe Strojwas took issue with the fact Christmas bonuses are a taxable addition to an employee’s pay.

“I find it hard to understand a Christmas bonus that has to go on one’s paycheque, and they have to pay tax on it. That’s really disturbing to me. I would prefer to see the $50 put towards the staff party or something, in such a fashion that they don’t have to pay the tax. In my way of thinking, it’s not a Christmas bonus when you have to pay tax on it.”

Birch recognized the issue identified by Coun. Strojwas, but admitted it would be difficult to change the situation as it stands for this holiday season, while advocating for a full review of the current policy in future.

“The staff have a social fund that is funded in various ways, but not from council. I appreciate the sentiment, I just don’t know how to do it for this year.”

Responding to a suggestion put forward by Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux about the possibility of substituting a gift certificate in place of a cash bonus to avoid taxation issues, Coun. Strojwas pointed out this consideration was not currently plausible.

“I’ve already researched this. Any gift certificate, cash in kind, is taxable. It didn’t used to be years ago, but it is now. The only way you’re going to get around that is to give them a jacket or a shirt, or something else. Cash equivalents are taxable.”

While expressing a wish that bonuses for employees could be higher, Coun. Randy Sparks noted this would not be feasible considering the town’s current fiscal situation.

“I’d prefer to know what staff thinks about the $50. I wish the town was in a situation that this monetary $50 for our staff was much greater than that, for what the staff does throughout the year for the Town of Taber.”

Without a whisper of bah humbug, council voted unanimously to amend Christmas Bonus Policy No. 13M-554/79 from a monetary amount of $25 per staff member to $50 per staff member, and directed administration to fully review Policy No. 13M-554/79 and bring any suggestions for improvement back to council for consideration.

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