Nelson council gives next council a raise

Size of increase disregards advice of appointed committee

Nelson city councillor Valerie Warmington told her colleagues Monday night that she’s been tracking her time, and her wage as a city councillor amounts to just under $14 per hour. She said her workload amounts to an average of about 27 hours per week.

This was a common sentiment around the table as council voted to increase a councillor’s salary from the current $17,255 per year to $25,000. And it decided the mayor’s salary should increase from $42,011 to $59,500. This increase will kick in after the upcoming election and will not apply to the current council.

With this vote they overturned a recommendation from a special committee that had recommended smaller increases.

A new council indemnity committee is appointed by council near the end of each council’s term. City policy states that the committee must consist of one business person, one representative of the non-profit sector, and a former council member. This year the members were Barb Henry, Ron Little, and Donna Macdonald, respectively.

The committee’s job is to review comparative rates for other municipalities (in this case 30 municipalities) and similar bodies and look at the workload required of councillors. An interview with current councillors is part of the process.

The current council’s wages were decided in this way by the previous council.

One factor in this year’s calculations is new federal legislation taking effect in 2019 in which a tax exemption of 30 per cent for municipal council members’ pay will be removed.

The committee recommended that the mayor should be compensated $5,063 to offset the loss of the tax exemption and be alotted an additional increase of $2,046, putting the annual wage at $49,500. And for councillors it recommended $2,079 to compensate for the tax loss and an additional $666 for a total salary of $20,000.

One member of the committee dissented. Donna Macdonald’s recommendation for increases was the one eventually adopted by council on Monday night.

Her recommendation was immediately championed at Monday’s meeting by councillor Robin Cherbo, with other councillors expressing agreement and councillor Michael Dailly turning it into a motion that easily passed.

Councillor Anna Purcell said current pay levels for council don’t attract “younger people in the prime of their earning years” and the city will need to pay more “if we want to encourage a more inclusive council” that is “more representative of the community.”

Councillor Janice Morrison said the committee’s recommendation is hardly better than the status quo because it amounts to a $666 annual increase after compensation for the loss of the federal tax deduction.

Warmington said the amount and scheduling of committee work and meetings makes it hard for a councillor to obtain or hold down other work.

It was pointed out that Nelson’s council has more responsibility than many similar sized cities because it oversees a police force and a hydro utility.

The committee’s recommended increase would have cost the city about $23,500 per year. The increase adopted on Monday will cost about $64,000 per year.

The indemnity committee also addressed several other issues.

Council currently receives $125 per day for a maximum of 20 days for the mayor and 10 days for councillors for loss of wages at their other employment when attending council meetings, events, or trips. The committee recommended it be increased to $175. But Morrison said it should be 20 days for everyone, stating, “For me as a full-time employed person, this is not sufficient.” The committee also said councillors who are self-employed would have to somehow demonstrate they had in fact lost income. Council did not vote on this but referred it back to management staff to cost this option out and bring it back to a later meeting.

The committee also recommended a $150 per month childcare allowance for those who could demonstrate they had paid for childcare to attend city meetings or events. Morrison said this should be called dependent care because many people are caregivers for adults. This was referred back to management staff to make this change.

Morrison proposed that another way to improve compensation, since councillors do not get pensions, would be to pay them, at the end of their term, 10 per cent of what they were paid throughout their term. She said some communities do this. This was referred back to management staff for research on cost.

The committee recommended the $1,500 technology allowance given to councillors at the beginning of the term should be increased to $2,000. This was neither voted on nor referred back to staff.

This story was amended on the evening of August 15 to delete the assertion that the pay raises will be phased in over the next four years. In fact, they will come into effect in January, 2019, and not be phased in.

Related: Nelson to review city council pay levels

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