By Trevor Busch
Beefy pay increases in the public sector can be a touchy subject for taxpayers increasingly squeezed by governments at the federal, provincial, and municipal level.
That fact didn’t discourage Taber town council, which recently approved a five-figure increase to remuneration for the mayor’s position, while councillors will also be seeing a significant financial boost.
At their March 27 regular meeting, council voted 6-1 to increase the mayor’s remuneration by $1,000 per month, and to increase town councillor remuneration by $500 per month, to commence with the 2017-2021 council term following the Oct. 16 municipal election. Coun. Rick Popadynetz was the single vote in opposition to the motion.
The decision will see taxpayers forking over an additional $12,000 per year for the mayor’s position, and a total of $36,000 annually for councillors, bringing total remuneration for the mayor to $42,817, and making the councillor average $24,765.
“I just can’t consciously vote to give myself a raise. I can’t do that,” said Popadynetz. “This is a volunteer job. When I came in, I volunteered. It’s not about the money, it’s about doing the best we can for the town — the citizens of the Town of Taber. This is a volunteer position.”
While making this statement, Popadynetz was quickly interrupted by Mayor Henk DeVlieger, who interjected that any pay increase would be for a future council post-election, not for the present council term which ends on Oct. 16.
In early January, DeVlieger announced he would be seeking re-election as the incumbent for mayor in October.
“We didn’t come on here to make money, we’re doing this out of our own spirit of volunteerism,” said Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux. “But I have to admit it takes up a lot of my time. I’m always running around town, all of the functions that we’re expected to attend. It’s almost a 24/7 job, and it has become a job in some ways. We fight for the town, we’re expected to travel a lot to fight for the town. I can agree with going with the average here for the next council. They’ll find out it’s a lot of work.”
In late 2016, the Town of Taber sought to establish a three-person member-at-large council remuneration committee, but a lack of public interest in serving on the committee prompted council to consider other options, such as a review of remuneration in municipalities of comparable size and population.
“I don’t think there’s a mayor and council in the country that does it for nothing. Everybody gets some sort of remuneration, whatever it is,” said Coun. Randy Sparks. “The demands on council and the mayor’s time is getting greater and greater. And so the time constraints are getting more and more. Council is always afraid to go down this road, because people say, ‘you guys say you want to cut back, but then you’re giving yourselves a raise’. We’re not giving ourselves a raise, it’s for the next council. None of us ran with our platform being, ‘I need more money in my bank account’. We run for the betterment of the town, but it does take a lot of time. I can certainly agree with taking the average.”
Prior to the March 27 meeting, administration reviewed the council remuneration rates of a dozen similarly-sized municipalities in Alberta for comparative purposes. The information was requested as a follow up to the March 13 regular council meeting, in which council sought remuneration information for the five municipalities with populations above Taber, and the fire municipalities with populations below Taber:
Hinton (pop. 9,882): Mayor ($55,933), Councillor Average ($26,991)
Morinville (pop. 9,848): Mayor ($41,685), Councillor Average ($27,280)
Ponoka County (9,806): Reeve ($37,737), Councillor Average ($21,711)
Blackfalds (pop. 9,328): Mayor ($35,130), Councillor Average ($19,219)
Olds (pop. 9,184): Mayor ($60,239), Councillor Average ($30,356)
Taber (pop. 8,428): Mayor ($30,817), Councillor Average ($18,765)
Edson (pop. 8,414): Mayor ($36,701), Councillor Average ($22,722)
Coaldale (pop. 8,215): Mayor ($36,756), Councillor Average ($23,665)
Drumheller (pop. 7,982): Mayor ($46,802), Councillor Average ($24,690)
Banff (pop. 7,851): Mayor ($82,035), Councillor Average ($29,781)
Innisfail (pop. 7,847): Mayor ($43,733), Councillor Average ($24,778)
M.D. of Taber (pop. 7,098): Reeve ($48,238), Councillor Ave. ($34,728)
Calculating the average of the 12 municipalities reviewed, the mayor position comes in at $46,317, with councillors registering $25,390. Of the municipalities on the list, the Town of Taber was on the low end of pay for mayors and reeves ($30,817), as well as councillors ($18,765), while Banff would ring in with the highest pay for the mayor position ($82,035), while the M.D. of Taber is at the high end for councillors ($34,728).
“It’s quite obvious that the town is on the lower end of the scale,” said Coun. Joe Strojwas. “It’s my opinion that in order to bring things into a more equal position, that the mayor — this is just my thought process — would receive an extra $1,000 per month, being $12,000 per year, which would increase up to $42,000 per year, and the councillors would get $500 per month, being an extra $6,000 per year. That would be $24,765. That’s the only comment I’d make. We’ve got to start somewhere, we can’t drag this out.”
As per the town’s Council Remuneration Policy C-2, council usually sets the remuneration for the mayor and councillors in the fourth year of a council term, by resolution of town council.
“Just checking on some of the history, there hasn’t been any increases, I believe, for a number of years — I don’t know exactly how many years, but quite a long time. Which is why we’re at the bottom level, and I don’t know that we should be at the bottom level, all things considered,” said Coun. Andrew Prokop. “So somewhere in the middle average — or what Joe (Coun. Strojwas) was suggesting — would seem to put us in that middle range. I’m in favour of that also, and I believe it’s overdue, one way or another.”
Administration had also been looking into the consideration of adding benefits for elected municipal officials. The idea had been previously endorsed by Councillors Jack Brewin and Laura Ross-Giroux during 2017 operating budget deliberations at council’s Oct. 12, 2016 special budget meeting. At that same meeting, former finance director Devon Wannop had 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.
“The only reason I’m included in this discussion is I’d like to see benefits for all of us here, so we have benefits if we get sick, or something happens to us, we’d have medical coverage,” said Popadynetz. “That’s the only reason why. I truly believe that we don’t need to give ourselves a raise, but we need to give ourselves benefits.”
The idea has apparently been retired for the time being, as the resolution made by council contained no reference to the town providing benefits for elected officials, although it was confirmed that the extra remuneration being afforded to councillors could be used to acquire benefits privately.
“By doing this, that $500 would enable people to apply for a benefit package on their own instead of the town doing it, and would probably be cheaper than the town doing it,” said Coun. Jack Brewin.
Mayor Henk DeVlieger defended the pay increase, suggesting the duties of elected officials are becoming increasingly arduous.
“I see how much time I put into it. I guess I could put twice the time in it, 24 hours a day. I agree, it’s more and more demanding, more and more committees, more and more making contacts, especially provincially, but also the federal government, it takes a lot of time. It’s demanding, not just as mayor, but I know the councillors, too. You sit on a lot of committees, and go to a lot of meetings. If you figure it out by the hour, it’s still a poor man’s wage, but that’s OK. I do it because I love this town, and I’m quite sure the rest of this council does it because they care for this town as well. To look at the average, I think is fair. I think that it’s easy to substantiate to the taxpayers, and if they don’t agree with it, we’ll find out in the next election.”
According to administration in the request for decision, town council could also have chosen to not review the policy at this time, and schedule the next review for the spring of 2021.
“Even with the increases that we have, we are still below the average,” said Strojwas. “So it’s not like we’re going up top, we’re still going to be on the bottom end of the scale. That’s certainly fair and proper.”