By Trevor Busch
A faction of town council is pushing for the implementation of benefits for councillors, which could cost taxpayers an additional $30,000 per year.
During 2017-2019 operating budget deliberations at council’s Oct. 12 special budget meeting, Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux began the initial probe of administration to test the legislative waters over the issue.
“Benefits for council: How would that affect us if we decided — or could we be eligible for benefits?”
The question arose during discussion of the operating budget for the Legislative Services department, which governs the salaries, wages and benefits for individual councillors. This line item is currently budgeted $150,928 for 2017, 2018, and 2019.
Finance director and acting CAO Devon Wannop indicated adding benefits for councillors would require an increase of approximately 20 per cent, raising the above totals to roughly $180,000, or representing an annual increase of approximately $30,000.
Human resources manager Barkley Busch pointed out that while the suggestion would require additional research, many municipalities already offer benefits for elected officials.
“Not under our current system as an employee. But there are — I’ve been getting lots of data, and there’s lots of municipalities that do have benefits for councillors. It is something we could do for sure. We’d need to research it a little bit more. If you were very interested, we could do the research on how it would work, costs, and all of that kind of stuff. There’s a lot of municipalities that offer it.”
Wannop sought further direction on the matter from council as a collective body.
“With that, if you guys are thinking about making changes, it says in the bylaw or procedure — it’s actually just a policy — that comes up in April if you guys are thinking about making changes. Is that something you guys would like to consider?”
Ross-Giroux found an ally in Coun. Jack Brewin, who supported the suggestion that councillors should be eligible to receive benefits from the town.
“Personally, myself, I think we should look at benefits. Some of us on council don’t require them, or they already have benefits through their work, but there’s some of us on council who do not have benefits. I’ll be honest, for what the councillors make, it’s quite a minimal wage. I would support benefits.”
Coun. Randy Sparks weighed in, suggesting the current meeting was not the proper venue to discuss the issue.
“This would be a discussion for another evening, as far as budget, because we have not discussed this as a body of council.”
Mayor Henk DeVlieger agreed.
“I think it might be a good time to discuss it at the same time that we have to discuss wages and salaries for council, next meeting.”
For the 2017 budget year, Legislative Services is allocating $1,062,216, up $146,183 from 2016, representing a per cent of increase of 16.34 per cent.
Total revenues for the 2017-2019 operating budget are non-existent, while total expenses will come in at $982,950 (2017), $1,006,149 (2018), and $1,016,252 (2019).
Planned action items for the department to consider for the cycle of the budget includes conducting the municipal election in October 2017.