The Council Remuneration Review Committee (CRRC) brought forward recommendations to adjust council meeting fees, monthly honorariums, and more during the Sept. 21 standing committee meeting.
Throughout two hours of discussion, council made several changes to the draft Council Remuneration Policy, which will come back for discussion and potential approval at the regular council meeting on Oct. 5.
CRRC suggested the review of the policy be done early in the third year of a council term to allow additional time to set dates and prepare reports and information packages. Ross Risvold of the CRRC noted that one reason as to why the review should be done in the third year is to allow anyone running in the upcoming election to have all the information about the councilor and mayor positions before they make a decision to run.
One of CRRC’s recommendations was to decrease the monthly honorarium for the mayor position and remove the full-time title, while keeping the councilor honorarium as status quo. Instead, council recommended that the mayor honorarium remain status quo at $5,000 per month and as a full-time position.
Most communities of similar size and economy to the Town of Hinton do not require or have a full-time mayor, according to the recommendation by CRRC. Coun. Albert Ostashek pointed out that during the remuneration review in his previous term, the low mayor honorarium was found to be a limiting factor in a mayor’s ability to be available and prevented potential candidates from putting forward their name.
“A person with a 9 to 5 job cannot accommodate the amount of meetings and requests for meetings that a mayor is brought,” he said.
He added that the timing, close to a municipal election, is also a concern.
Coun. Trevor Haas prefers a mayor with more availability and noted that it would be difficult to have the responsibilities of an additional job while also being a hands-on mayor.
“If we want a mayor that’s more available, then I like the higher wage because if we reduce it more, then it’s more difficult for the mayor to not have to have a second job potentially. They would be less available,” Haas said.
Lowering the mayor’s pay would also lower the chances of someone with lower financial support to run for mayor, hindering the democratic process, added Coun. Ryan Maguhn.
Mayor Marcel Michaels suggested lowering the mayor honorarium by $500 monthly or not being paid for any committee meetings instead. Several other councilors agreed that the honorarium could be dropped to $4,500, but this recommendation was not officially made. Coun. Dewly Nelson noted that with the recommended adjustment to the meeting fees, the dollar amount for the mayor would decrease already.
The meeting fees, paid on top of the honorarium, were adjusted to $75 for meetings of zero to two hours, $125 for meetings of two to four hours, and $250 for meetings over four hours. Currently, all meetings up to four hours are charged at $125, with meetings over four hours being charged at $250 and meetings over eight hours being charged $350.
Jessica Hearsey, the chair of the CRRC noted that Hinton’s remuneration structure is different from a lot of other municipalities as they include a lot of their meeting fees for regular and standing meetings in with their honorarium, which made comparing Hinton’s remuneration policy to other municipalities more difficult.
CRRC recommended the mayor review and approve timekeeping and expense reports of all councillors while the deputy mayor reviews the mayor’s sheets, instead of the CAO as it is currently done. Risvold noted that having the CAO approve the expense and honorarium meeting claims, puts them in a very tough situation. Instead of accepting that recommendation, council suggested that the responsibility of reviewing and processing timesheets and expense sheets remain with administration until the impacts of this change can be looked at in depth.
Ostashek stated he wasn’t opposed to pivoting that responsibility to the mayor and deputy mayor but that there are other other aspects that may be impacted.
Nelson noted that having an elected official reviewing these timesheets and expense sheets would be more transparent than having council’s only employee, the CAO, making the call on an interpretation of a policy.
The recommendations by CRRC also included the AUMA benefits package for elected officials be offered with the premium paid by the Town, that the professional development fund be carried forward up to one year and be reported on the website, and that the professional development budget be reviewed annually.
Council then made an amendment that the Mayor may attend the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) Annual Conference, the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) conference, the Municipal Leaders’ Caucus, and Economic Developers Alberta (EDA) conference annually, while councilors may attend AUMA annually and FCM once per term.
Michaels said that every mayor should go to EDA and focus on economic development. He added that the Professional Development Account, funded to a maximum of $3,000 per year, will be gone very quickly for any mayor as it includes all additional events and meetings.
All councilors felt it was important and beneficial for the community that the mayor attend these events annually.
The CRRC is an independent citizen committee appointed by council to examine remuneration and make recommendations to council.
Masha Scheele, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hinton Voice