Opinion: Council says no to its committee

Nobody should be upset at Estevan city council for voting to keep their take-home pay identical for the rest of this term.

After all, if most of us were put in the same situation, we likely would have done the same thing.

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Council had an opportunity to keep their take-home wage at the same level, or to take a hit of more than 10 per cent. They chose to retain their net salary by increasing the amount they’ll be paid before taxes.

Most of us don’t get the opportunity to do something when our wages are cut due to a tax increase.

So before criticizing council over this latest decision, think about what you would do in the same situation, if you were losing 10 per cent of your wages because of a clueless move by the federal government, removing something that had been in place for decades, and that nobody complained about.

Has anyone ever cited non-accountable allowances as a big issue come election time?

Council members were going to lose money because of the feds. Not because of job performance, work ethic, the economy or poor decisions. But because the feds took away an income tax exemption.

And it happened in the middle of the term, making the situation more difficult here. 

Municipal councils and school boards that have said no to “making their wage whole,” deserve a lot of credit. It’s not easy to say yes to a wage cut.

Councillors Greg Hoffort and Shelly Veroba should be lauded for voting against keeping their wages whole.

There is one element to this story, though, where council should be criticized. They went against the council remuneration committee.

Estevan has had remuneration committees for years. It was a smart move by the council of the day to have a few citizens decide council’s wages before the start of each term.

If council sets their own stipends, then it looks bad, especially if there’s a big increase, and especially if it’s done in the middle of the term.

Citizens make recommendations. Council ratifies them. If they go against the committee, then it makes council look bad.

When council decided to strike a new remuneration committee partway through this term to decide how to handle the loss of the non-accountable allowances from the feds, you could expect council would go along with their recommendation that council could recoup half of the money they lost.

If they were to go against the committee, then it should have been to say no to an increase in pre-tax income of any kind in the middle of the term.

But the committee’s recommendation didn’t seem to go over well. A couple council members expressed their displeasure at the compromise recommendation, while a couple of others said council should bite the bullet on this one.

Making their wages whole for the rest of this term, despite the committee’s recommendation might not make the public happy.

(Long-time residents of the city will remember the flack council took when they approved a car allowance for themselves shortly after the 1997 election. The remuneration committee ended the possibility of something like this happening).

Estevan city council followed the lead of most city councils in the province. They won’t make a dime more, but it will cost taxpayers more. And all that money will go to the federal government. 

It’s also going to make it difficult for council to find people to serve on this committee in the future, that is, if council wants to have such a group.

This might be the final year in which Estevan has a remuneration committee. Which would be too bad; they’ve done a lot of good for the city over the years, and they have deflected a lot of heat from council.

Among the other options presented to council is to have council’s wages connected to that of an MLA’s base wage. The mayor would receive 50 per cent of the MLA’s wage; council members would then be paid a third of the mayor.

Such a system is becoming more popular in municipalities, and it makes sense. It means that if an MLA gets a wage increase, so does council. If there’s a decrease, council gets a decrease.

It’s likely a simpler solution.

But as long as a remuneration committee does exist, council would be wise to accept their recommendations.

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