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Citizens Commission Presents Compensation Report to Council
(Tuesday, April 20/2004)--A Citizen's Commission on the Remuneration of the Mayor and Members of Halifax Regional Council is recommending that elected officials be paid comparably with similar-sized municipalities across Canada.
The three-member citizen Commission, which presented its report to Halifax Regional Council this evening, is also recommending that all of the remuneration paid to municipally-elected officials be taxable. Previously, one-third of the annual stipend paid to the Mayor and Members of Council was tax-free.
The increase, which would not become effective until after this October's municipal election, means that a Councillor for HRM will be paid approximately $52,000 annually at a fully taxable rate. After conversion to a fully-taxable base, this translates into an actual increase of about $6,500 above the stipend currently received by Councillors, which is equivalent to approximately $45,000 fully-taxable. The stipend for the Deputy Mayor would total $57,000 and be fully taxable. The Mayor's stipend would not change immediately, remaining at a fully taxable level of approximately $127,000.
The formula proposed by the Commission would mean that elected officials in HRM would never be the highest paid in Canada, but neither would they be the lowest paid.
The Commission spent several months researching a method that would provide an appropriate mechanism to determine the level of remuneration for elected officials of HRM , which is the largest municipality in Eastern Canada..
Its goal was to establish a "universe" to determine an appropriate level of remuneration that could be applied to a formula to establish an ongoing review process. It formulated its recommendations after reviewing the current levels of remuneration for the Mayor and Councillors, and comparing them with seven similar-sized municipalities across Canada.
The report recommends that the Mayor and Councillors be paid initially at the average level of seven comparable municipalities in Canada. Those municipalities include Winnipeg, Vancouver, Hamilton, Surrey, B.C., Laval, Que., London. Ont. and Brampton. Ont.
Based on the research and public input received during the review period, the citizens' Commission arrived at conclusions which not only supported its research, but were also confirmed and supported by earlier surveys, evaluations and inquiries conducted over the past two years.
Based on comparison with comparable communities across Canada, the remuneration for Members of Halifax Regional Council is below the mean average of stipends.
The roles and functions of the Mayor and Councillors in Halifax Regional Municipality have a greater significance than many similar- sized municipalities, due to the fact that HRM is a hub city for Atlantic Canada. As such, this element needs to be factored into a formula for remuneration.
The current system for reimbursement of expenses for HRM Councillors is imbalanced and needs to be more reflective of actual expenses incurred, with appropriate accountabilities. This is particularly relevant to travel expenses within Districts having large geographic boundaries.
Annual adjustments to the stipends for the Mayor and Councillors, using the ongoing application of the recommended remuneration formula, should be conducted.
After exploring various approaches used by municipalities across Canada, it became clear to the Commission that there are as many ways of approaching remuneration for elected officials, as there are jurisdictions.
The challenge this presented to the Commission was finding an approach that would consider the fact that Halifax Regional Municipality is a hub city and the Council that governs it must be widely representative of the community.
The Commission also determined that the role of Councillor is a full-time commitment and must be remunerated as such. At the same time, it is also recognized that HRM Councillors must be remunerated in context with similar jurisdictions across Canada.
Therefore, the Commission is recommending a formula that establishes what can be termed as the pay "universe" for Mayors and Councillors in similar circumstances across the country. (see appendix III). This formula can be applied annually to ensure that elected officials in the Halifax Regional Municipality are remunerated at a level consistent with other similar municipalities across the country.
Also, inherent in this formula is the premise that the Mayor and Councillors of Halifax Regional Council will never be the highest paid in the country. However, they will be remunerated at a level which is sufficient to recognize the strategic importance of this municipality in context with the Atlantic Region and the country as a whole.
The mechanism, which the Commission proposes, is intended among other things to avoid the disruption of periodic salary reviews and the resulting distraction from other municipal priorities. The Municipal Government Act provides for an eight-year annual review from 2006 of municipal district boundary and representation issues. (see appendix IV). If adopted, the formula the Committee proposes might conveniently be matched to this pattern of review.
The Citizens' Commission on Remuneration for Members of the Council of the Halifax Regional Municipality recommends the following:
Whereas, the remuneration provided to Members of the Council of the Halifax Regional Municipality is below the average of similar-sized communities across Canada, the level of this remuneration should be brought to the mean average immediately following the next municipal election. (Currently, the level of stipend for the Mayor is consistent with this formula and does not require adjustment until the calculations warrant such adjustment.)
And whereas, it is recognized the Halifax Regional Municipality has a regional and national significance, the municipality shall implement a seven-year process to elevate the remuneration of municipally-elected offices to a level which represents an amount which is 50 per cent more than the national mean remunerations. The effects of this formula will be that those in elected offices of the Halifax Regional Municipality will never be remunerated at the top level of Canadian municipalities, but neither will they be compensated at the lowest.
And, to apply the formula on a gradual implementation schedule covering seven years until the full application is in place.
Taxable versus Non-Taxable Stipend: The Commission recommends that the split of taxable vs. non-taxable stipend be abolished. The reasons for the non-taxable segment being established are no longer supportable. After conversion, the net amount currently paid as stipend should result in no net loss or gain. This amount is now considered the base rate.
Expenses: All necessary and appropriate expenses should be considered for application to the Mayor and Councillors. This would include having HRM's travel expense rules apply to the work of Councillors.
Office of The Deputy Mayor: The stipend rate for the Office of Deputy Mayor be established at 110 percent of the stipend rate for a Councillor and applied monthly.
The complete text of the Commission report is available on the HRM web site at www.halifax.ca
Member, Citizens' Commission on Remuneration for Members of the Council of the
Halifax Regional Municipality
*Other commission members include Blair Mitchell and Peter Ineson