Sturgeon County councillors have approved a 36-per-cent pay raise for themselves based on recommendations from a citizen’s task force, but have hit pause on whether or not they should get paid parental leave.
County council voted 5-1 on Sept. 10 in favour of a new council pay policy that implemented the recommendations of the Citizen Task Force on Elected Officials' Remuneration (Coun. Karen Shaw opposed).
In August, the task force told council it should boost what its members take home in base pay and per diems to the level earned by about 67 per cent of 11 comparable communities. Doing so would involve a pay increase to make up for the recent loss of a federal tax credit that, prior to this year, let councillors get up to a third of their pay tax-free.
The task force noted council pay was last reviewed in 2006 and had fallen well below market rates.
The new pay policy means a big pay hike for council.
Mayor Alanna Hnatiw will now earn $102,874.76, up from her current $78,089.27, while councillors will get $74,339.03, up from the current $52,060.55. Under the policy, council’s base pay will now increase or hold steady each year based on a report by Statistics Canada on Alberta’s average weekly earnings.
Councillors will now earn mileage based on the rate used by the Canada Revenue Agency for any trip over 30 km per day, and will no longer receive a $2,500 to $10,600 distance honorarium based on how far they lived from the Sturgeon County Centre – instead, they will now get the lowest level of compensation ($2,518.63) as part of their base pay.
The new policy boosts per diem payments for council work outside of regular meetings to $130 or $260 per event (based on whether or not the events last less than or more than four hours) from the current $90 or $180. Council members can claim such payments from the county for conferences, council retreats, formal in-person professional development, and external boards and committee meetings that don’t already offer them.
These pay changes kick in Jan. 1, 2020, and must be reviewed by a citizen task force no later than Sept. 1, 2024.
Coun. Patrick Tighe supported the changes, noting council had already saved the county considerable dollars this term.
Hnatiw said council has worked for a year with an effective pay cut (due to the end of the federal tax credit) and would now work for two years with a salary recommended by a citizen task force. She believed previous councils put off this pay review out of fear of the optics of doing so.
“I’m concerned with doing what is right and not with merely the optics of how things look,” she said.
Hnatiw said she hoped these changes would draw a wider slate of candidates for the next election.
In a related 5-0 vote (Coun. Wayne Bokenfohr absent), council chose to set per diem rates for public members of county boards and committee to the same level as elected officials, with the head of an assessment review or subdivision and development appeal board getting another $45 or $90 per event.
What about babies?
Council also voted 4-2 in favour of first and second reading of a bylaw governing maternity/parental leave for elected officials.
The bylaw, if passed, would give elected officials who give birth or are about to do so up to 15 weeks maternity leave – one at full pay and the rest at 95 per cent pay.
Officials who adopt a child or have a spouse/partner give birth would get to take up to 26 weeks of parental leave, during which they would be paid the maximum Employment Insurance benefit. Officials who give birth can claim up to 11 weeks of such leave after their maternity leave. Officials must provide notice of maternity/paternal leave, written commitment to have their constituents represented while on leave, and identification of any workplace accommodations they’ll need when they return.
While many councillors voiced support for the bylaw, with Bokenfohr saying it would level the political playing field for women in politics, many had concerns about its implications.
Tighe noted a councillor could miss many developments if they took the full six months of leave available, and that council could lose quorum if enough members took leave at the same time. Bokenfohr wondered if they should cap the number of times you could take leave per term. Shaw called the bylaw premature, as county council is currently a part-time job (Edmonton and Calgary are full time).
It’s a part-time job with full-time hours, Coun. Dan Derouin said.
“It’s too demanding (of a job) to be pregnant, so I think that should be a consideration if you’re going to apply for this job.”
While acting corporate services director Jesse Sopko had suggested passing this bylaw immediately so it could take effect Jan. 1, 2020 (as the task force recommended), council stopped at second reading and directed him to do more research on parental leave policies, with an amended law coming back to council by March 2020.
Speaking facetiously, Sopko asked council officials not to have any children until he could revise the bylaw.