Colwood council pay raises offset cut of tax-free expense allowance

Colwood councillors are getting a raise, but they aren’t expected to be taking home any more money.

Councillors have agreed to a 7.5 per cent boost to their stipend, designed to offset the federal government’s elimination of the one-third tax-free expense allowance introduced in its 2017 budget.

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According to the 2017 Statement of Financial Information, councillors were paid $13,511.50 last year. Mayor Carol Hamilton received $27,023.13. The total cost of the increase is estimated at $9,050, the equivalent of a 0.06 per cent tax lift or about $1.13 on the average residence.

“You certainly don’t do a council position for the money, but the money can sometimes stand in the way of your being able to do it,” said Coun. Cynthia Day. “The compensation is small and the hours are long.”

Day and other councillors such as Jason Nault and Gordie Logan said it was unfortunate the allowance was eliminated. It covered incidental expenses such as use of printing paper at home or gas for a vehicle without necessitating detailed accounting, Day said. She added it is important to compensate not only the current council but whomever might take the positions in the future.

“It is a lot we ask of people.”

Nault pointed to a 2004 report that said a councillor’s workload averaged 20 hours a week. “Things have got a lot more complicated. We didn’t used to have 160-page agendas. We do now.”

He said, in 2004, compensation translated into $11.40 an hour for councillors. By 2016, it was $12.78 an hour. “That is almost what a short-order cook makes at McDonald’s,” he said. “So it’s not like we’re being grossly over paid. The proposal is fairly modest.”

The 2019 raise will bring councillors up to about $15 an hour.

Coun. Gordie Logan noted he has always worked full time as well as doing council work, “so I don’t consider this a job.”

“It’s giving back. Perhaps it’s old-fashioned when I think that way,” said Logan, who voted against the increase.

The change is not to kick in until next year after the October municipal elections.

Coun. Rob Martin noted the increase is designed as “net zero,” but said it “won’t be popular.”

“It’s never popular when you give yourself a raise. I don’t think the general public will understand that this is truly just a net zero for us,” Martin said.

Still, he supported the measure.

Councillors also agreed to provide incoming councillors as part of the November council orientation the option of enrolling in a health-benefit package. The cost for the city to pay for the premiums for all councillors would be $20,000 a year. Under the measure approved this week, councillors will have to pay for the health benefits themselves if they choose to opt in.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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