By Trevor Busch
Town council is establishing a three-person member at large committee to review council remuneration and the possibility of adding health benefits for elected municipal officials.
At their Oct. 24 regular meeting, council voted 6-1 to establish the committee to review council remuneration. Coun. Rick Popadynetz opposed the motion.
During 2017-2019 operating budget deliberations at council’s Oct. 12 special budget meeting, Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux initially raised the issue of benefits for councillors. At that same meeting, finance director and acting CAO Devon Wannop indicated adding benefits for councillors would require an increase of approximately 20 per cent to council’s current remuneration, representing an annual increase of approximately $30,000.
“Of concern to a couple of us are benefits for municipal councillors,” said Ross-Giroux, opening discussion of the issue at the Oct. 24 meeting. “Some of us don’t have benefits at all, and I was wondering if it would be possible to include that in the upcoming budget for future councils, or this one. I won’t even discuss what we’re getting for wages, but I look at the M.D. (of Taber) council, they get full benefits. A lot of other councils get benefits, and we don’t.”
Under the town’s Council Remuneration Policy C-2, the mayor and councillors receive a monthly salary with a travel and subsistence allowance for required attendance at council and committee meetings and various community events. As per policy, council usually sets the remuneration for the mayor and councillors in the fourth year of a council term, by resolution of council.
“I don’t know if we should even include it in next year’s, since it is going to be an election year,” continued Ross-Giroux. “I don’t know that we should consider it then. Is it of great importance for us to do that, or should we wait and add it to the committee’s work when the time comes?”
Mayor Henk DeVlieger pointed out that administration was seeking direction from council on the matter, and would prefer to see it expedited.
“The committee’s time will be before the election. I understand from administration they’d rather see it dealt with sooner than later so they can put the accurate figures into the budget.”
Effective Jan. 1, 2014, current remuneration rates and allowances for elected officials are as follows:
MAYOR: Monthly Base Salary ($1,666.67); Monthly Travel and Expense Allowance ($833.33); Total Monthly Remuneration ($2,500); Total Yearly Remuneration ($30,000). DEPUTY MAYOR: Monthly Base Salary ($1,083.33); Monthly Travel and Expense Allowance ($541.67); Total Monthly Remuneration ($1,625), Total Yearly Remuneration ($19,500). COUNCILLORS: Monthly Base Salary ($1,000); Monthly Travel and Expense Allowance ($500), Total Monthly Remuneration ($1,500); Total Yearly Remuneration ($18,000).
“I agree with Councillor Laura (Ross-Giroux) that benefits isn’t a lot,” said Coun. Jack Brewin. “We spoke before about a ‘poor man’s wage’. You can see what the actual wage is there, and it’s not a lot. I’d like to see benefits for council members, all of us.”
DeVlieger suggested benefits would not be of value to all members of council, considering the coverage some members of council may already enjoy.
“It probably will be different from councillor to councillor, depending on the situation,” said DeVlieger. “Myself, I’m covered anyway, and there may be some other ones, too. It’s not like every councillor will use that opportunity. So that is something that has to be, I think, looked into.”
Ross-Giroux was careful to state that she would be willing to pay for a portion of any benefit package, under a scenario similar to town employees.
“As it stands right now, I believe employees pay for part of their benefits, and that’s something that certainly I would be willing to do, to pay partially on that. That way, it leaves it up to the individual councillors whether they want to be a part of that benefit package or not.”
Wannop detailed the current arrangement between employees and the Town of Taber with regard to benefits.
“Right now, for our full-time employees, the town pays 80 per cent, and the employee pays 20 per cent, except for police association members, that get it for free. However, it’s something that we’d need to look into.”
Following up on a question from Coun. Popadynetz, Wannop did state there would be significant financial implications to a decision to add elected officials to a benefit program.
“I don’t know if it would be large. It would be necessary just due to the group coverage that we have already, but it will be an initial cost for sure, based on the number of individuals that opt into the benefit package.”
Making reference to some of the health issues that have afflicted Town of Taber councillors throughout the present term, Popadynetz came out in favour of adding benefits for elected officials.
“I got into this role as a councillor as more of a volunteer position, more of a volunteer for the last two terms that I’ve sat on council. The first term, we never voted an increase in wages, but seeing what happened with some of our councillors this term, I’m definitely in favour of a benefit package.”
Coun. Joe Strojwas was adamant that whatever system might be implemented, there would need to be uniform coverage for all councillors rather than a voluntary opt-out, opt-in system that might see one elected official receive a larger percentage of remuneration than another based on their health coverage.
“I think this is a touchy issue, because then it makes a separation in wages, and I think we need to keep a level paying field, because we are basically at the rate of a ‘poor man’s wage’ here. We are basically volunteers, we’re doing this because we want to see the betterment of the community.”
Coun. Randy Sparks echoed Strojwas’ comments on the issue.
“I understand where Councillor Ross-Giroux and Councillor Brewin are coming from with this, but I agree with Councillor Joe (Strojwas) also. It needs to be the same, whether that be adding $100 per month, or $150, or whatever council decides. The only reason councils get outside people to look at it is so they’re not held accountable for it. None of us got into this for the money, because if you worked it out by the hour what you put in, it’s certainly not a whole heck of a lot.”
Brewin wanted to make it absolutely clear that his motivation for advocating for health benefits was not based on any consideration of his own personal medical issues.
“I just want to be clear. For me, I’m not sure I’ll be on the next council or not, so it’s more of a future thing for people. I definitely don’t want one person getting more money because of their health situation. It has to be even across the board deal for everyone. Please don’t think that because I was sick, that I require health benefits. I just think it’s a nice benefit for contributing, so there is some security there.”
Municipal residents that might wish to serve on the three member-at-large Council Remuneration Committee are asked to complete an application available at the town office or on the town website. Applications will be accepted until Nov. 18.