INNISFAIL – Town council has approved an independent committee recommendation to give themselves a five per cent raise for the next two years following the October general municipal election.
Council approved the recommendations from the four-member Council Remuneration Committee by a vote of 3 – 2 at its regular meeting on Aug. 9.
Mayor Jim Romane, and councillors Gavin Bates and Danny Rieberger voted in favour, while councillors Jean Barclay and Donnie Hill were against the five per cent raise. Coun. Don Harrison was on holidays and absent from the meeting.
The committee report presented to council recommended a five per cent increase in each council member’s monthly honorarium, as well as the same per diem increase, which they all receive for the many committee meetings each is expected to attend in town, as well as those outside the community.
Currently the mayor receives a monthly payment of $2,700. The five per cent raise to begin after the Oct. 18 election will increase it to $2,835. Each councillor now receives $1,300 a month. The raise will increase their monthly honorarium to $1,365.
As for per diems, each council member will see a half-day payment increase from $105 to $110.25, while per diem pay for a full-day commitment rises from $210 to $220.50.
The committee did not recommend any significant changes to travel expenses and council benefits.
Mayor Jim Romane, who is retiring from office this election year, said he supported the committee recommendations largely because of the big hit all municipal councillors lost in 2019 when the federal government took away their tax exemptions for up to one-third of their salaries and allowances.
“You can quite imagine that was quite a shock, quite a setback for us,” said Romane, adding he now makes less take-home pay than he did five years ago. “I was in favour of supporting it because when that tax credit was taken away other municipalities offset their councillors and said they would still get the same amount of take-home (pay). We elected not to.
“I just thought, ‘we took that big setback so I don’t think it is out of line to get us back up to where or close to where we were before,” said Romane. “It was just a bit of a catch-up year. I think it’s still fair. We’re still probably at the bottom end of most communities in the amount we’re getting.”
As for any public backlash he and council might receive over the raise during a current battered economic climate, Romane said he would make the same argument to any citizen willing to hear it.
“I will, yes,” said Romane. “I just don’t think it has accumulated. We haven’t gotten an increase – this council – for two years. Two years ago, they didn’t increase it, didn’t change it, we froze it, and comparing it to other municipalities we’re still very fair on remunerations for council.”
However, both Barclay and Hill strongly opposed the pay increase. Barclay noted town employees have had no merit (bonus) in two years, and in the last budget council did not approve a cost-of-living allowance hike for them.
“We also have a community that has been going through a pandemic in the last 18 months, so there are residents and businesses that are struggling. In my opinion I did not think the optics were right to now give council a raise,” said Barclay. “I realize this is all done by an independent committee and I appreciate their work very much, and I know they compared our pay to what other communities are in the area and we’re certainly below most of them but I just felt the timing wasn’t great for doing this. I would have preferred to have waited another couple of years.”
Hill said he voted against the pay raise because council members are mandated to “lead by example” for the town as an organization.
“I don’t think there should be certain departments that get it and others that don’t,” said Hill. “Our hardworking staff should hopefully realize that council values them, and that we’re all in the same boat and hopefully we can get to a point where everyone can be paid what they are worth.”
He noted the increases for council will mean about an extra $1,000 a year for each councillor.
“Yes, it is small but on principle since the rest of our organization did not get their increase, I felt it was only appropriate that we follow suit,” said Hill.