Original Published on Jul 20, 2022 at 13:29

By Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Big Valley village council essentially cut their own wages after a debate on how they are paid to attend meetings. The decision was made at the July 14 regular meeting of council.

Mayor Dan Houle requested councillors discuss their remuneration for attending meetings, specifically, the flat rate they’re paid for the first fours hours of said meeting.

Houle pointed out Big Valley council was paid $60 for the first four hours or part thereof; therefore, if a meeting is one hour or three and a half hours, they get paid $60 to attend regardless.

Houle suggested cutting that down to $30 for up to two hours, followed by $15 for every hour thereafter. The mayor noted it still works out to the same pay for longer meetings, but could save the taxpayers about $2,100 a year for shorter ones. Houle stated every efficiency helps ensure the future viability of the village.

Looking at a report on the subject prepared by Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Elaine Macdonald, Coun. Gail Knudson noted Big Valley councillors were already the lowest paid on a list of those polled by the CAO. Knudson stated a councillor does a lot of work behind the scenes such as preparing for meetings and talking with residents and hesitated to cut the meeting rate. 

Knudson added that councillors have to take time off from employment for council work and some people don’t run for council seats because the pay is too low. 

The CAO responded the monthly stipend is intended to cover things like meeting with residents.

Houle’s change to remuneration was approved by a 2 to 1 vote, Houle and Coun. Amber Hoogenberg in favour, Knudson opposed.

Employee training policy

Councillors approved the Education and Professional Development Cost Reimbursement policy, which the CAO explained in her report protects the taxpayers when paying for advanced employee training.

“The goal of this policy is to ensure the village isn’t paying for professional development opportunities and losing the employee immediately after attaining their certificates or diplomas,” stated Macdonald’s memo. 

The policy included rules for trained staff paying back their training costs to the village if they leave the village’s employment within four years. She noted it’s prudent to have something like this in place and she’s had personal experience with policies like this as well.

It was noted that some courses for municipal staff can cost $800 to $900 each, and up to 12 courses could be involved, so it could be a substantial investment of taxpayer money.

Coun. Knudson stated she was unsure about forcing people to pay back training money. 

“I personally find it a little harsh,” said Knudson. 

During discussion it was stated the village has paid for advanced training in the past only to see an employee leave for a different job soon after.

Knudson stated she felt it was too harsh to ask employees to agree to the policy if the employee was perhaps unsure they liked the job or not. Macdonad responded it was important that the village explains this policy to staff very clearly when hired.

The policy was passed by a 2 to 1 vote Houle and Hoogenberg in favour, Knudson opposed.

This item reprinted with permission from East Central Alberta Review, Coronation, Alberta