By Cole Parkinson
With 2018 nearing its end at the time, Municipal District of Taber council was looking over a variety of finance committee recommendations for the 2019 budget.
One recommendation that led to discussion was around increasing the cost of living to 1.75 per cent for staff, contractors and council in 2019.
During their regular meeting on Dec. 11, they discussed if they wanted to increase, decrease or leave the cost of living the same for the upcoming year.
In regard to a council increase, there was a belief they would not increase their cost of living.
“Council had an email conversation yesterday and council is prepared to take zero per cent this year,” said Reeve Merrill Harris.
One councillor though expressed their opinion they were not in favour of that statement.
“I’m not in favour of that actually and I wasn’t in favour of having a text message going around yesterday. I don’t think decisions should be made outside council chambers,” said Coun. Jennifer Crowson.
In terms of the out of council conversation, Coun. Brian Brewin stated it was started to give council notice of the recommendation.
“That’s why it is being brought up here now, I just wanted a heads up,” he explained.
Crowson explained why she felt council should be included in the 1.75 per cent increase for cost of living in the 2019 budget.
“When you look at the budget and what was proposed from 2017 to 2018 to 2019, the increase in the budget for council expenditures increases, however, we have been under budget every year. Things to think about moving forward is, everything will be 100 per cent taxed. There was no increase last year for council. With a 1.75 per cent increase, that is $4.84 to our per diem based on our 110 days, roughly, for council. That would be an increase of $3,700 which is still under the budget that we have this year. By the end of the year, after all of our expenses are put in, we will be under the 2018 budget. By doing a 1.75 per cent increase, it only means a $6,900 approximately which is not going to impact any staff layoffs of any kind. The way our budget has increased to the $412,000 is actually a 4.2 per cent increase. Last year, we cut all of the reeve’s allowance and it also lowered allowances for all of council. Some of the municipalities I have talked with are doing a slight increase based on council’s will be making less at the end of the day, not more,” she said. “I think at the end of this year, we are still going to be about $80,000 under budget from what was budgeted last year.”
With tax changes coming to elected officials, council were given a quick explanation of what that means for them.
“In 2015, the cost of living adjustment was 3.5 per cent, 2016 two per cent, 2017 was a flat amount but it worked out to 1.7 per cent if it was on a percentage basis. For council specifically, they left their per diems the same in 2018 as they were 2017, so they were zero per cent. In regard to the change in Canada Revenue Agency legislation, for as long as I can remember, elected officials their per diems or pay, one-third was deemed an allowance to cover expenses and things like that and was not subject to tax. Only two-thirds was subject to income taxes and that is changing, I believe that is starting in 2019,” said Bryan Badura, director of corporate services.
Other councillor opinions varied as some viewed the zero per cent for council necessary as their revenues had seen drops.
Coun. John Turcato thought zero per cent across the board would be best as it would lead to fewer layoffs.
“I would be in favour of zero per cent all the way. Contractors, staff, everybody, that is how I feel. If that meant fewer or no layoffs, that is definitely what I would support,” he said. “Our revenues are dropping if we are going to shrink ours, then everyone’s should be kept the same. Sooner or later you are going to have to have increases but if that can save layoffs, this is the only way to go in my mind.”
“I feel in light of the decreasing revenue that we are seeing, this is one of the hardest budgets we have had to do. I feel it is a good message to send (councillor zero per cent increase),” added Brewin.
Other councillors also felt like having council take zero per cent would spread a good message and help the M.D. as much as possible.
“We have a responsibility to try and help out the M.D. as much as we can. Even if it doesn’t make a huge impact, every dollar should matter to us. The tax decision isn’t made by us, it is a federal decision so whether we adjust our wages, not many corporations would have the ability to do that. Tax laws change all the time and unfortunately, we are at the mercy of that,” said Deputy Reeve Tamara Miyanaga.
Two separate motions were made, one for council and one for contractors and staff.
The motion to have council per diems at zero per cent was passed 4-3 with opposing votes coming from Councillors Crowson, Leavitt Howg and Murray Reynolds.
Due to council needing to talk about staff and contract wages, council moved into closed session to discuss whether or not to raise their cost of living to 1.75 per cent.
Coming out of closed session, council voted unanimously to raise staff and contract cost of living by 1.75 per cent.
With both of those recommendations approved, council voted unanimously to adopt the interim 2019 operating budget with the amendment to the cost of living.
A recommendation was also presented around budgeted overtime for 2019.
The recommendation presented to council had $113,000 of budgeted over time and they also suggested to direct administration to propose a plan to reduce overtime to keep within budgeted amounts and to report monthly overtime amounts.
“My concern is, if we are going to see the amounts every month, as a council we better be ready to decide if we are going to stop the level of service if we are getting to a point in the year where we are going exceed that amount. We do have to set an overtime amount but I do wonder how we are going to manage this,” said Miyanaga.
A motion was made to approve the $113,000 of budgeted overtime and to direct administration to propose a plan to reduce overtime to keep within budgeted amounts, and to report monthly overtime amounts, and was passed unanimously.