The way in which the city reports councillor expense and training budgets is “inadequate” and improvements are needed to generate greater transparency, states a report by a committee that reviewed remuneration practices for city council.
The council remuneration review committee (CRRC) also wants to scrap per diems for attending meetings, reimbursement for attendance at any function deemed to be political in nature and fold the mayor’s vehicle allowance into his base salary.
Council will vote on the report tonight. If the recommendations are approved, the mayor would receive an annual salary of $90,000, up from the current $88,037, but would love a vehicle allowance. Councillors would receive a base salary of $31,500, or 35 per cent of the mayor’s annual income, up from $29,560. Both salary increases should be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2011, according to the report.
Councillors would also remain part-time, while the mayor would remain full-time. Both salaries would also be tied to the Average Weekly Earnings Alberta (AWEA) index, which the committee says would ensure remuneration “keeps pace with inflation and that ‘make up’ increases will not be required in the future.”
Convened by council last spring, the five-member committee reviewed current remuneration practices both in St. Albert and in other comparator communities, such as Lethbridge, Red Deer, Medicine Hat and Grande Prairie. It also surveyed local groups and individuals who had extensive knowledge of the roles and responsibilities of members of council.
The committee’s biggest recommendation was to eliminate per diems, except for special circumstances, while also calling for members of council to submit expense claims for professional development “or events where the member of council is acting in an official capacity.”
Under the present policy, members of council receive a per diem of $100 for attending a half-day meeting and $200 for a full day.
“The CRRC found the current policy to be unclear as it relates to the use of per diems,” the report states.
The report also recommends maintaining health and dental benefits for councillors who choose to opt into the program provided, as well as allowing members of council to contribute up to three per cent of their salary to an RRSP with the city matching the contribution.
“There is a trend among comparator communities to offer some form of retirement benefits to their members of council,” the report notes.
The committee conducted an online survey asking both groups and individuals for opinions on how the mayor and councillors should be compensated, how many hours it should take to perform their functions and what benefits, if any, they should receive.
When asked how many hours it should take to fulfill their duties, 78 per cent of respondents said it should take the mayor more than 40 hours per week, but 34 per cent said it should take councillors between 20 and 30 hours a week.
Of the communities surveyed, only Edmonton and Strathcona County had full-time councillors or aldermen.