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County councillors should get 36% raise: task force

Would put county at 67% of average
WEB Sturgeon County file
Sturgeon County councillors to get a raise. FILE PHOTO/St. Albert Gazette

Sturgeon County should give its councillors a 36 per cent raise to make sure it draws high-quality candidates for leadership, says a citizen task force.

County council voted 6-0 to accept the report of the Citizen Task Force on Elected Officials’ Remuneration Tuesday (Div. 2 council seat vacant).

They also voted unanimously to have administration bring back a unified council pay policy for a vote Sept. 10 that, if approved, would implement the task force’s recommendations. Administration is also to have a parental leave policy ready for a vote by that date and to write formal job descriptions for council positions.

Council struck the task force last March following on a September 2018 report by consultant Michael Lim that also recommended substantial pay hikes for mayor and council. That report had been prompted by the end of a federal tax credit that, prior to this year, let councillors get up to a third of their pay tax-free.

Task force chair D. Lee Danchuk told council that the task force based its report on the Lim study, advice from administration, and interviews with council members.

Raises, and why

Right now, Sturgeon County’s mayor takes home $78,089.27 a year in base pay while councillors get $52,060.55.

Danchuk said the task force recommended that council pay match that earned by 67 per cent of the 11 comparable municipalities in the Lim report (i.e. the 67th percentile), which is in line with how the county sets wages for administration. (The Lim report recommended the 75th percentile.)

They also recommended that council pay be increased to make up for the loss of the federal tax credit, which had effectively cut council pay by 13 to 15 per cent, noting that several municipalities had made similar moves.

The task force said that council should drop its distance honorarium system, which pays councillors about $2,500 to $10,600 depending on how far they live from the Sturgeon County Centre, as only three other comparators had such a system. Instead, they ruled that every councillor should receive the lowest level of compensation ($2,518.63) as part of their base pay.

These changes would increase the mayor’s annual base pay 27.55 per cent to $102,874.76 a year. Councillors would get a 36.09 per cent raise to $74,339.03.

“I know these percentages seem like they’re quite substantial,” Danchuk said, but council pay was already well below market rates and was last reviewed in 2006.

To prevent giant pay hikes in the future, the task force recommended that council adjust its pay each year based on the Alberta’s Average Weekly Earnings report from Statistics Canada and subject their pay to a regular independent review, with the next review to happen no later than 2024.

Other payments

Danchuk said the task force also looked at per diem payments for council, which are extra payments for work related to council meetings.

Right now, they’re set at $90 for events lasting less than four hours and $180 for longer ones, which was way below average. The task force said these rates should be set at the 67th percentile, which was $130 for under-four-hour events and $260 for those that are over, and be restricted to conferences, council retreats, formal in-person professional development, and external board meetings that don’t offer such payments.

Instead of paying mileage rates based on the price of gas at a local gas station each month, the task force said council should use the rate used by the Canada Revenue Agency (as most comparable communities do), and only if they travelled more than 30 km (as anything less was deemed reasonable to be paid out of pocket). Said rate is currently $0.58/km.

Danchuk said the task force didn’t see the need to designate council roles as full or part time, but noted that the mayor was effectively a full-time position. The task force recommended creating formal job descriptions for council roles, establishing a parental leave policy to support elected officials who add children to their families, and putting all these pay rules into one, clear document.

The task force recommended that these changes kick in Jan. 1, 2020 so administration could incorporate them into the 2020 budget.

Danchuk said the task force believed these changes were fair and equitable.

“Sturgeon County must have elected officials of a calibre that can spend the time required to address local resident concerns as well as represent Sturgeon County effectively regionally, provincially and internationally,” he said.

Council had separately asked administration to look at compensation for public members on committees, which is not set out in policy, said legislative services manager Jesse Sopko. He recommended that public members receive the same per-diems and mileage rates the task force said councillors should get.

Council asked Sopko to bring back a policy for remuneration for public members appointed to county boards and committees for a vote Sept. 10.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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