Lacombe’s mayor and council voted themselves big pay hikes on Monday as part of a review that determined pay scales weren’t keeping up with workloads.
Under the new policy, Mayor Steve Christie will see his total compensation including remuneration, benefits and per diem compensation increase to $55,000 annually, up 35 per cent from $40,656. Councillors’ total pay will increase to $24,000, up nearly 38 per cent from $17,430.
Councillor Wayne Rempel said those figures aren’t a true reflection of the actual increase, which is much lower.
“What has happened is the budget hasn’t really reflected what has been paid out to the councillors and mayor over the last quite a few number of years,” said Rempel, who is serving his second term on council.
In a report to council, city chief administrative officer Norma MacQuarrie notes that the amount of work undertaken by the mayor and council up to the end of October will push expenses past the budgeted amount by the end of the year.
The remuneration budget this year is $145,000, but the amount needed to cover council expenses is expected to top $178,000.
“This finding serves as an indicator that remuneration levels may not necessarily align with present-day realities in the number of meetings and activities that council is attending,” says MacQuarrie in her report.
Under the new policy, the 2012 remuneration budget will be $199,000, or about a 12 per cent increase.
Rempel said changes approved by council on Monday better reflect the workload and are in keeping with the amount paid to councils in similar communities, including Stony Plain, Chestermere, Sylvan Lake, Cochrane and High River.
“We’re not the lowest and we’re also definitely not the highest among communities that are comparable to us. We’re pretty much middle of the road.”
As the owner of two businesses, Rempel said he often must ensure he has paid staff replacing him while he is on council business, which includes many unpaid events.
“Definitely, nobody’s in it for the money.”
The city’s remuneration policy was reviewed recently for the first time in a decade. Over that period, cost of living allowances have been adjusted each year, but no overall review of workloads or comparisons with similar-sized communities had been done.
The new remuneration policy also simplifies council compensation rules. The previous policy was unclear about what qualified as eligible per diem expenses.
Under the new policy, mayor and council receive base pay, plus a tax-free general expense allowance based on one-third of the total remuneration. The allowance is meant to cover phone lines, computer equipment, Internet connections and vehicle expenses.
The Lacombe Taxpayers Association, which has raised concerns about council spending on new civic buildings, is not opposed to the increases.
“We feel that it was a reasonable increase, especially since it has been over 10 years since the last pay increase,” says the association in an emailed response to a request for comment.