Original Published on Sep 07, 2022 at 06:46
By Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Recently, the Town of Barrhead conducted a survey of municipalities with similar populations to determine the rates of council remuneration. The Municipality of Crowsnest Pass participated in the survey, along with an annual compensation survey offered by Alberta Municipalities.
Administration reviewed the results and brought forward a recommendation to council to increase council members’ salaries to bring compensation closer to their governmental peers’. Council’s remuneration rates have not been reviewed since December 2019.
Council discussed the matter during its Aug. 23 regular meeting.
The monthly compensation for Crowsnest Pass council members is $1,724, well below the average $2,232.82 of comparable municipalities. Crowsnest council’s average meeting rate for a half-day is $102 and a full day is currently $204; provincial counterparts are remunerated $150 for a half-day and $266 for a full.
Due to changes the federal government made in calculating income tax in 2019, the amount of take-home pay council members actually received decreased. Previously, the federal government recognized that a portion of council remuneration went directly to costs associated with carrying out governmental duties, so one-third of council’s salaries was not included in calculating income tax. That consideration is no longer applied.
CAO Patrick Thomas said administration’s recommendation was motivated not just to ensure council members receive comparable compensation for their work as government officials, but also to make running for council more appealing for future candidates.
“We know that everyone here is passionate and that there is a lot of time commitment — but it also comes down to being able to attract new candidates as well that have a depth of perspectives,” he said.
“Oftentimes when you have to take time off work it does become a financial strain, so we’re trying to recognize that there is compensation given for that.”
Coun. Lisa Sygutek agreed that a raise would be appropriate.
“I don’t know anybody who works as hard as we do for as little money as we make,” she said.
“It’s ridiculous how much we work and how little we’re paid. And I know we’re not doing it for the money, but I’m still missing time at work, I’m missing quality time with my kids — I’m missing a lot of stuff to run this community.”
Adding council members to the benefit package given to municipal employees, Sygutek added, would also be appropriate.
The need to adjust councillor salaries, said Coun. Dean Ward, was also apparent when totals were compared to the lowest wage in the municipality’s collective agreement.
“If you take the average last year, [we each] made roughly $400 a week. If you divide that by $28 an hour — the lowest rate in our collective agreement — we’re getting paid for about 12 hours,” Ward said. “If there’s anybody in this room that’s putting in 12 hours or less, I would be shocked.”
“There’s a lot of work that goes into these jobs — it’s not just reading or meetings,” he continued. “It’s the phone calls, it’s the meeting people, it’s everything. It goes on and on and on.”
“It does put a lot of stress on a person,” agreed Coun. Dave Filipuzzi. “I’ve gone home many a night after a meeting and stayed up for two or three hours contemplating and going over what happened and trying to make myself feel that I made the right decisions.”
Administration offered four options to increase remuneration. Overall, council debated choosing between two: increasing the meeting rates and stipends to compensate for the changes in federal income tax, which would set the average salary to $22,421.93; and increasing the meeting rates to better align with the average of municipalities of similar sizes, which would put council’s average salary at $26,200.88.
Both options are still under the $26,793 average in similar-sized municipalities.
Rather than make a decision during the meeting, Mayor Blair Painter said he would like more time to research what an appropriate compensation would look like, particularly in stipends.
“I’m at roughly $13,000 a year — the mayor of Drumheller is over $40,000. It’s a considerable difference,” Painter said.
The mayor also said the suggested half- and full-day rates were still too low and that any meeting that went over three hours should be compensated as a full day.
“We are doing a volunteer service, in a way, to our community and we shouldn’t be here, in my opinion, for the money, but I think there should be fair compensation for what we do,” he continued, adding that his duties took an average of 30 to 35 hours a week and he was only able to take five vacation days this year.
“I think we need to make some changes here,” Painter continued. “I don’t think that what is suggested is where it needs to be — I think it needs to be more than that. We need to do more investigating and come back with some better numbers.”