Wood Buffalo council is getting a raise on paper but not in their wallets.
Mayor and Council met on Tuesday where they discussed changing their annual income due to the federal government’s changes in the Canada Revenue Agency’s regulations for elected officials.
One-third of each council member’s salary is tax exempt, however, on January 1, 2019, this will no longer be the case, meaning they would lose salary – around $18,720 a year for the mayor and over $3,840 for each councillor.
Council voted in favour of increasing their salaries from $132,011 to $165,790 for the mayor and $38,878 to $46,200 for each councillor. Mayor Don Scott, and Councillors Phil Meagher, Jeff Peddle, and Keith McGrath were all against.
Councillor Mike Allen says the increase will make sure all the personal sacrifices taken by each council member won’t take a bigger tole.
“Some of my colleagues have to change their business practices or turned down work opportunities because of their position with council, so they’ve made other sacrifices – I think it’s important for them that we keep their net take-home pay the same.”
The increase will help equal out the loss in taxes council would experience under the new CRA rules – keeping their yearly income the same from previous years.
There were three other options they could have chosen. They included keeping their salaries where they are – accepting more losses in taxes, increasing councillors salaries to $50,000 and decreasing the mayor’s to $120,000 – a recommendation that was rejected by the previous council – and approving the previous changes but adding the tax losses onto their salary.
Scott notes he was in favour of accepting the salary loss.
“I believe that running for public office is a sacrifice, I’ve always believed that to my core – I think if you wanted to make money you certainly wouldn’t run for public office, you’d do something else.”
He adds he believes elected official salaries should be approved by the previous council, however, understanding the unique change in federal legislation.
“I’ve got a philosophical belief about the whole thing, that we shouldn’t be voting on, making changes to our salaries,” added Scott.
Allen echoed the same message.
“It’s a calling to public service and we’re there to serve the public, not necessarily to make that income.”
Even though council is bringing in the same income they’re technically getting a salary increase. Allen believes the public will support it but understands that a few people will be angry.
“From what I was reading, there seems to be a lot of support to have fair compensation and I think that’s all this motion was trying to address – a fair compensation for the work your elected officials do.”
The salary increases will come into effect on January 1, 2019.