By Cole Parkinson
Many councillors for the Municipal District of Taber are still struggling with what they should and shouldn’t claim for their council per diems.
Currently, the reeve has a $276.46 per diem, $650 monthly allowance and $160 monthly retirement contribution while councillors have a $276.46 per diem, $450 monthly allowance and $160 monthly retirement contribution.
Travel and expenses are set at $200 for the fall and spring conventions while all other expenses are reimbursed upon submission of receipt and mileage is a CRA rate.
“I’ll be honest with you, we have a wide range of what people are claiming. Some are very generous and some are very stingy with themselves on what they are claiming,” said Reeve Merrill Harris during the M.D.’s policy meeting on Oct. 30. “I’m not saying one is right and one is wrong.”
One way to bring further transparency for the public, a question around showing councillor per diems more openly was brought forward.
“If we put it (councillor reimbursement) on the website, that way constituents can be the judge on what we are claiming. That way we can explain why we claimed it and go from there. It’s a way to be transparent to the ones who elected us. If it’s open and we’re transparent on how we’re spending their money, especially with the financial times coming ahead. I think it would be a good thing to do,” stated Coun. Leavitt Howg.
Others on council agreed with posting councillor reimbursement on the M.D. website.
“I don’t disagree with you Leavitt, it probably should be open. We have always had it on our annual meeting as to what everyone (makes). I think that it is good that we have always been open,” added Coun. Brian Brewin, who also brought up bringing forward different rates council could use. “RMA (Rural Municipalities of Alberta) has a half-day and full-day rate that goes up to so many hours. A half-day is, I think up to four hours and over four hours is considered a full.”
With full and half-day rates, council also agreed that all seven councillors time submitted would fluctuate due to proximity.
“Because Murray lives the furthest away, does he count from when he leaves his doorstep or when he gets here? Someone’s half-day would be different from another’s full-day,” continued Howg.
Administration stated time for councillors should start once they leave their property.
“You’re committing this time to the M.D. so it should almost be from when you leave your doorstep,” replied interim CAO Doug Henderson.
While council was mostly receptive to having full and half-day rates, there were still some questions raised.
One was around when council worked more than a full eight hour day and how they would submit that.
“I think one thing with this that may not show, for myself, if I am going to do a half-day, I may or may not (list) a full-day because the day before was a 12 hour day. Sometimes there are days when I leave at 8 a.m. and I’m not home until 10 at night. Also, some of the committees we sit on may have work outside of the meetings. I think at the end of the day, we are accountable,” said Deputy Reeve Jen Crowson. “I personally will gauge it on, am I spending time away from my family first of all. Secondly, would I still do this if I wasn’t on M.D.? There are some boards that I may be involved with already because I’m in the community.”
What and what not to claim in terms of council per diems is something that has been brought up numerous times within council chambers.
With a largely new council elected in the past municipal election, that question has persisted.
“I’ve been trying to find that answer since I got elected and it has been very vague. It sounds crazy to have to ask what you are earning. My daughter is starting a new job and she knows what the expectation is for the amount of money. Whereas ours, because it is a political job, we say ‘it’s up to you.’ Are we jockeying against each other without intent by not charging? It is not standardized enough,” said Coun. Tamara Miyanaga.
“When I was reeve, if I was asked to be there, to me, that was an official role and that was what I would put down,” added Brewin. “If it was something I just attended, no. So something like Cornfest. If I was asked to speak, I would put down a little bit but certainly not the other days that I attended.”
While residents are able to see how long council and other meetings are, it was pointed out by many of the councillors how much work is done before the clock starts.
“Even a 20 minute SDA (Subdivision and Development Authority) meeting could involve three hours of reading,” said Crowson.
“At the end of the day it is up to the individual and what you’re comfortable with because you have to explain it,” added Brewin.
Another suggestion was made to tweak how council was currently doing things.
“Maybe we should be upping the minimum, and this is just a thought, the monthly allowance and allowing for quarter, half and full-day,” said Coun. John Turcato.
A motion was made to recommend to council to add a deadline to per diem policy of the first council meeting of the month, and was carried unanimously.
Another motion for administration to look into what other municipalities are doing in terms of online posting of council per diems and develop a suitable form to bring back to the policy committee was made and also carried unanimously.