Raises proposed for councillors

Chris Clegg
South Peace News

Despite the ongoing tough economic times cited by Big Lakes County councillors the last two years, they are considering giving themselves two raises at the upcoming Oct. 13 meeting at the expense of taxpayers.
The decision comes just five days before the municipal election Oct. 18. The proposed pay raises are as follows:

  • The reeve is paid a monthly honorarium of $1,500. The proposal is to increase it by 8.33 per cent to $1,675.
  • The deputy reeve is paid a monthly honorarium of $1,250. The proposal is to increase it by eight per cent to $1,350.
  • Councillors are currently paid $1,150 per month. The proposal calls for an increase of 7.8 per cent to $1,240.
  • All members of council currently get paid $250 for each meeting attended. The proposal calls for a 10 per cent increase to $275.
    In a report to be presented to council at the meeting, CAO Jordan Panasiuk writes the reason for the increases is to “. . .provide fair, consistent and adequate compensation for elected officials at a level that will attract community- minded citizens as candidates for public office.”
    He also adds Big Lakes County wants to “ensure compensation provided to elected officials is done in a transparent and cost-effective manner”.
    However, in regard to transparency, the Oct. 13 agenda including the proposed raises was not posted on the Big Lakes County website as of Oct. 10 so the public would know about the issue before the meeting. It was also not included in any of the October hamlet newsletters.
    “Administration is recommending an eight per cent increase to all categories,” writes Panasiuk, adding the raise would be consistent with inflation rates over the past four years.
    According to the Big Lakes County consolidated financial statements ending Dec. 31, 2020 for the current year, council gave Panasiuk a $19,837 raise [or 9.7 per cent] in 2020 despite the troubled economic times aided by the COVID-19 pandemic, where many businesses are suffering economically. Panasiuk’s pay, which includes salary, benefits and allowances, rose to $224,570 in 2020 compared to $204,733 in 2019.
    Numerous pay raises have been a controversial topic with the current council. At the May 13, 2020 budget meeting, council discussed a proposed pay cut, which was eventually turned down.
    “We haven’t had a raise in seven years,” said Sunset House – Gilwood South Councillor Ann Stewart.
    However, in fact, there were three raises since 2016 and no councillor or anyone from administration reminded Stewart of that fact. Stewart has not publicly retracted her statement.
    Council increased its pay at its Oct. 24, 2016 organizational meeting in two areas, contrary to Stewart’s statement.
    The first motion was to amend its policy to pay council $250 per day. Formerly, council was paid $200 per meeting so the increase was $50 per meeting or 25 per cent.
    Council also scrapped the half-day meeting rate which paid $100. After the motion was passed, councillors received $250 per meeting regardless of length. It was an increase of $150 per meeting from $100 for
    meetings under four hours. Many committee meetings are in fact under one hour and many under 30 minutes. Such meetings, albeit few, would pay councillors $550 per hour.
    Council also increased its monthly honourarium at a meeting Jan. 23, 2019. At the meeting, council passed a motion to increase the monthly allowance for the reeve to $1,550 from $1,200, for the deputy reeve to $1,250 from $900 and for councillors to $1,150 from $800.
    In essence, an increase in pay of $350 a month for each councillor [$4,200 a year], or $37,800 per year for all of council. All paid by Big Lakes County taxpayers.
    Council decided to raise their pay after the federal government eliminated the preferential tax deduction available to elected officials. The federal deduction formerly allowed up to one-third of a councillor’s pay to be paid out as a reimbursement of expenses, rather than taxable income. In short, all income was now taxable.
    In the end, what the federal government took from council, they merely recouped from Big Lakes County taxpayers.
    Since 2019, or just under three years, if council passes the current proposal, the reeve’s pay increases by 39.58 per cent to $1,675 from $1,200; the deputy reeve’s pay increases 50 per cent to $1,350 from $900; and councillor’s pay increases by 55 per cent to $1,240 from $800. All during a time where Big Lakes County is suffering from oil and gas companies not paying their taxes and falling revenue which has forced it to cut some services.
    The proposed raises at the Oct. 13 meeting are at council’s discretion They may pass it, deny it, or refer it to the new council for a decision after municipal election Oct. 18.
    All councillors after the election also receive a cheque for $4,800 or $100 a month for the last four years served.
    Kinuso Councillor Ken Killeen is on record at a previous meeting stating that councillors are paid peanuts for their services.

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