A new committee will be tasked with coming up with a recommendation for Rocky Mountain House town council remuneration rates.
Federal tax law changes coming January 1 will remove a one-third tax exemption for all elected officials, resulting in a significant drop in take-home pay if municipalities choose not to offset those changes.
In Rocky Mountain House, the new committee will be made up of existing members at large serving on other Town committees, with their recommendation for council anticipated early next year.
At this week's council meeting Mayor Tammy Burke expressed her discomfort with making decisions on mayor and council remuneration.
“I think this should be going out to a member panel of selected people, public members at-large,” said Burke. “The County did it that way. Those are my thoughts, I feel really uncomfortable about making a final decision.”
Councillor Jason Alderson put forward the motion to establish the committee, while councillor Randy Brown suggested it be made-up of members-at-large currently serving on other town committees, an idea agreed to unanimously by council.
“I would really like it updated for the New Year,” Alderson said. “So potentially it might require with somewhere stuck in there that they have the option of throwing in some back-pay because I think it needs to be fixed, adjusted and I think it’s definitely outdated. I don’t mind saying that council is under paid compared to other places and that I have no problem with somebody else coming in and helping us out with that though.”
Councillor Len Phillips said he also feels the Town’s remuneration policy is ‘behind’ in many ways.
“Going to a public forum or a quorum put together definitely won’t make it happen for January 1, there’s no way that that could happen that quickly,” stated Phillips. “Which means going back to councillor Alderson’s comments that it should be retroactive to January 1, whatever happens. I like the fact we have options here to pick, should we decide to pick one at this point.”
Mayor Burke pointed out the economy in 2019 should be taken into strong consideration when making remuneration rate decisions.
“I think we’re going to see a lot of changes," she warned. "I think with the oil price, everything that’s going on, the election, I would also like to just go one step farther and we have to be cautious of what we’re creating here. Those are my thoughts, I’m one person but that’s the way I strongly believe that we really need to think hard about this.”
Councillor Alderson agrees with the approach, saying no matter what industry a person works in, they too should be thinking about the economy.
“I agree with being fair, which to me means not underpaying people,” states Alderson. “I don’t know anybody in any industry that would decide to work for a heck of a lot less for their counterparts anywhere which is exactly what’s happening here. I think it’s a bit crazy that we’d be willing to take a hit with the new tax changes and not update this at the same time.”
Alderson suggested any updates to council remuneration rates be retroactive and done in January or shortly thereafter.
Town of Rocky Mountain House CAO Dean Krause recommends at least one member of a public-at-large committee include a past mayor or councillor who would understand the workload that comes with the role.
“I wouldn’t go higher than three total members to make it a pretty concise working group,” he advised. “Administration would work with that group with all the information that’s been collected, so we could advertise for a two week period and try to have members in place by the end of December. I don’t think it would take long for the committee to come up with a recommendation.”
Councilllor Merrin Fraser admitted giving that task to a committee is an ‘extra step’ but adds, ‘optically and transparency-wise’ is a good step.
“I think we need to get going on it,” she stated. “So I would say that we should instruct admin to put together that committee as soon as we can put it together and that way we’re not really falling behind in the New Year with the new tax changes. This is a discussion we’ve kind of been having for about a year, so I will agree that we should maybe use a committee but we should use it soon.”
Communities councils throughout central Alberta have already approved recommended pay increases for their elected officials in order to keep take-home pays the same once the new rules are in place.
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