Arguing you can’t put a price tag on transparency, Victoria councillors have voted against reverting to a tax-free allowance on a third of their pay.
The proposed change was one of several measures councillors have been considering to try to limit the property tax increase to 3.25 per cent.
Most B.C. municipal councils use the one-third tax-free model — councillors receive a share of their compensation as a tax-free allowance to cover “incidental expenses.” In Victoria, the potential annual savings to local taxpayers would be about $56,000.
But in a 5-4 vote, councillors decided to stick with the model recommended in 2006 by an independent citizens advisory panel, which called for a single salary and the end to the tax-free allowance.
Coun. Marianne Alto said transparency was “of critical importance” and an issue “I believe our citizens value.”
Transparency was a key factor in the citizens’ committee review of council remuneration that led to the elimination of the tax-free allowance.
“Our guiding principles were that council’s salary structure should be transparent, accountable and reasonable, with no hidden benefits or convoluted formulas,” Margaret Lucas, John Fryer and Irwin Henderson, three members of the committee, wrote in a recent opinion piece in the Times Colonist.
Coun. Shellie Gudgeon argued “transparency is still there,” even if the tax-free allowance is in place. Council should grab every opportunity to cut expenses, she said.
“These are tough economic times. We have to find savings wherever we can. I think that’s the message that I keep hearing and reading in the surveys from the businesses and the residents. We have to find whatever savings we can over the next three, five or 10 years,” Gudgeon said.
Coun. Pam Madoff called the issue “deceptively complex.”
“Most people don’t understand that as a member of council you can’t write anything off. You can’t write off a home office. You can’t write off your vehicle. You can’t write off your computer or anything you use at home,” Madoff said.
Voting in favour of going back to the tax-free allowance were councillors Geoff Young, Chris Coleman, Ben Isitt and Gudgeon.
Mayor Dean Fortin and councillors Alto, Madoff, Charlayne Thornton-Joe and Lisa Helps voted against it.
Meanwhile, council agreed to other measures to help limit the 2013 tax increase, including:
• Limiting mayor and council salary increases to zero in 2013.
• Limiting exempt staff salary increases to zero in 2013.
• Limiting library and police budget increases to two per cent.
• Allocating 1.25 per cent of the tax increase to maintaining city infrastructure.
© Copyright 2013