INNISFAIL – Giving a future council a five per cent raise while the COVID-19 pandemic continues its social and financial battering on the local electorate is wrong, say municipal election candidates.
And one councillor – Don Harrison – says it was “disappointing” the matter was dealt with in his absence because remuneration for the new council is an important issue that could have been addressed any time with council members before the Oct. 18 municipal general election.
“It is not a panic that it needed to be done last week,” said Harrison, noting there was at least six weeks before the election. “I was disappointed, very disappointed. We had lots of time to have that frank discussion, particularly for something I feel that is an important as what this is.”
Harrison, who is seeking reelection, was away on holidays when remuneration for the next council was brought up at council’s regular meeting on Aug. 9. Coun. Jean Barclay asked for a deferral until Harrison returned from holidays. However, council declined to move on the request, with Coun. Danny Rieberger arguing there was a quorum and council was capable of making decisions.
“If we were going to table one motion, we should table them all. If we are not going to deal with one issue because there’s one councillor away, we shouldn’t deal with any issues,” said Rieberger, who has not yet announced whether he’s seeking a third council term. “If there is a quorum, and the ones that are present should be able to make the decisions. Why would we not deal with one issue and deal with the rest of the issues on the agenda? It didn’t make sense to me.”
Council’s final vote on Aug. 9 on whether to increase future council members honorariums and per diem pay by five per cent was approved by a vote of 3 – 2. Harrison told The Albertan last week after returning from holidays he would have also voted against the motion, which would have created a tie and its defeat.
“People are still struggling with some of their finances, and when was the last time anybody that I can remember got a five per cent raise? The timing is not right,” said Harrison. “We have nurses, we have the healthcare workers – essential workers – getting rolled back three to five per cent, and here we are, a municipal council?”
Councillors Barclay and Donnie Hill voted against the future council raise. Mayor Jim Romane and councillors Rieberger and Gavin Bates voted in support.
Bates, who has declared he’s running for reelection, said his yes vote was based on past committee recommendations that council followed “99.9 per cent” of the time. He noted two years ago the committee recommended a zero increase and council approved it. Bates added it has been four years since council last had a raise.
“We already won the race to the bottom, so to me it was the responsible thing to do and try to get Innisfail better positioned,” said Bates. “It still doesn’t put Innisfail in any kind of a bad light of being high or anything. It’s not a huge consequence to the overall budget of Innisfail.”
However, all other registered candidates for the upcoming municipal election are strongly opposed to giving the new council a raise.
“I would have voted to leave wages as it. It seems to me they are a bit out of touch. We have had business suffering for 18 months and they imposed a tax on the industrial business,” said mayoral candidate Glen Carritt. “We should be looking for ways to give back, not take away in these times. I do understand they haven’t had a raise in a bit but we are losing small businesses in our community and province so we all need to tighten our belts.”
Former councillor Jason Heistad, who is now attempting a council comeback, said while he respected the committee’s decision to bring the new remuneration proposal forward, it was not the right time for a raise, particularly when town staff has been shut out of any increases.
“I don’t think it is correct or appropriate to get a five per cent bump,” said Heistad. “When I read the newspaper, our own staff haven’t had increments in the past couple of years. It just doesn’t look good. It’s not right. In my mind there should have been a pass or a hold on this decision.”
Councillor candidate Natalie Klein said she was “shocked and disgusted” at the approved pay hike.
“I am shocked and disgusted this would even be brought to the table for discussion while businesses, seniors and families are still recovering from a pandemic,” said Klein. “We are not receiving pay increases and raises. In fact, many have had pay cuts and lost wages. This is an inappropriate time to pat themselves on the back with a five per cent pay increase.”
Councillor candidate Roger Tewson said the current council should have tabled the issue until after the October election when the new one was sitting and “had their bearings.
“In this economic picture where we’re just coming off the pandemic and we still don’t know what the delta variant is going to do to the economy and maybe we should have just waited. I would have voted not to a five per cent increase,” said Tewson, adding he is no sure what he will do with the increase.
“I am not in this for the money. I’ll would probably take the five per cent increase to the Innisfail food bank.”