By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Council narrowly approved a new Council Remuneration and Per Diem Policy Apr. 23. The policy passed with a 3-2 vote of Council, Councillor’s Sheldon Fingler and David Pattison voting against the policy changes.
The previous remuneration policy was passed in January of 2011. Further amendments were made in October of the same year. The Apr. 23 revisions were based on Council wanting to review and set the policy prior to the end of this Council term.
Under the approved policy, Council’s honorarium will remain at the level set Jan. 1. At that time, a 3 per cent cost of living increase raised the mayor’s honorarium to $2,492.75 per month, the Deputy Mayor’s honorarium to $1,527.24 per month, and a councillor’s honorarium to $1,211.93.
This honorarium covers the normal business of Council, including meetings, preparation for meetings, dealing with public concerns, as well as attending town social events.
Council is also entitled to a per diem of $100 for activities less than 4 hours in length and $200 for activities longer than 4 hours in length. This remuneration is paid for parades, ribbon cuttings and other and other ceremonies and events when they occur out of town and when the member of Council is invited and acting in an official capacity.
A significant change to the policy is that Council members will now be paid a per diem for attending all day budget meetings and strategic planning sessions, something that had previously been part of the base honorarium. Based on a full compliment of seven councillors attending five such meetings per year, it is estimated the per diem change would add another $7,000 per year to Council’s budget.
The suggestion was a bone of contention with some members of Council. Councillor Sheldon Fingler was not prepared to see councillors paid for work he felt was an integral part of his job. “I think budget is what we sign up for,” Fingler said, adding he didn’t check what Councillors made when he ran for office as he was not in it for the paycheque. “I truly feel it is our role and our responsibility. I couldn’t support it if it stays in there.”
Deputy Mayor Holmes said not all members of Council attend all the budget meetings and if it took money or great food as incentive to get people to come to budget meetings, she was ok with it. Additionally, Holmes argued that some members of Council had to take time off work to attend the additional meetings. The per diem would help cover the lost wages and child care costs for some.
Both Councillor Nicole Boutestein and Mayor Paul Krauskopf supported councillors receiving the per diem for those additional meetings for the same reasons. The mayor said though he was retired and had the time to attend additional meetings, he felt such was not the case with his colleagues who would have to take time off work to do so.
The motion to put budget meetings back under the general duties covered by the honorarium was defeated 3-2, Councillors Pattison and Fingler being the only supporters.
Money for committees
Another change to the policy relates to the various committees and boards Council members sit on for the community. Under the former policy, councillors were entitled to a per diem if the committee or board was outside the municipality. A councillor who sat on three boards or committees within Morinville might spend 12 to 15 hours per month on those committees but because they are within the community no remuneration was received. A councillor attending but one meeting outside the community per month would receive a per diem of $100 or $200, depending on the length of the meeting. A change to the policy will now entitle councillors to receive the same board and committee honorarium that a public member of the committee receives for their time. As such, Councillor Nicole Boutestein, who sits on the Morinville Public Library Boar,d would not receive the same $40 honorarium public board members receive, and other members of Council would receive the same honorarium the public members of their respective boards and committees are paid.
Another significant change is the paying of a per diem to the alternate member of the Capital Region Board. Currently, Mayor Krauskopf is the representative for Morinville, Deputy Mayor Holmes the alternate. Under the previous policy the alternate was entitled to the per diem for three meetings each year. Because both members are to attend to ensure there is always someone sitting at the table through the whole of the meeting, Council has approved paying the alternate the per diem for all CRB meetings attended. The change would add another $1,400 to the Council budget each year.
Money for nothing
Although Council approved getting paid for the extra work they do in and out of the community, they also approved making sure councillors absent for long periods of time do not get paid for not being there, at least not without Council’s approval.
Under the Municipal Government Act, any member of Council absent longer than eight weeks requires a special resolution of Council to remain on Council. Deputy Mayor Holmes put forward an amendment to the policy Apr. 23 that would require a second resolution of Council in order for the councillor to continue receiving their honorarium during the extended absence. That amendment passed unanimously.
Changes to the Remuneration and Per Diem Policy are estimated to add $10,000 in expenses – as much as $7,000 for additional budget and strategic planning sessions, $1,400 to the CRB alternate, and the remaining monies for various board and committee honorariums. Administration believes, however, Council will fall below their full Council budget as they have in the past.