By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News
Following months of discussion, Coalhurst town council has adopted a new remuneration policy.
Previously, during council’s regular Dec. 6, 2022, meeting, they voted to postpone deliberation on the policy pending more information from the CAO regarding the comparator municipalities and a report to council at the Jan. 17 council meeting. When the matter returned to council, council passed a motion to refer the matter relating to Council Remuneration to the Policy Bylaw Risk Review Committee, and that the committee return to council with a recommendation no later than May 2.
At a Feb. 13 Policy Bylaw Risk Review Committee meeting, several amendments were made to the policy, regarding salary changes, word changes, added definitions and to add parameters for an annual review of the policy. Council had voted during their Feb. 21 meeting to accept the draft policy as presented and postpone a decision to adopt the draft policy to a future meeting of council.
“I think it’s important to note that we’ve had much deliberation and discussion about this,” said Coun. Deborah Florence, who is chair of the Policy Bylaw Risk Review Committee. “The previous remuneration policy, as it stood, left a lot of incorrect interpretation for what was paid or not paid per diems. It had some wording that had not been updated for quite some time, and was not up to date with current practices. This council has been incredibly active since taking office, and as a point of transparency when we do things, internally or externally, we’re able to claim a rate for those commitments. However, as we did more last year than in previous years, the budget of remuneration was a bit inflated. So for me, part of setting this rate and changing this policy is not only is the amount the exact same as last year’s actuals, and is a great place in this year’s current budget, but also ensures that it remains consistent and doesn’t fluctuate, resulting in a more stable budget line.”
Florence noted that while compensation wasn’t something she considered when running for town council, the town needs to “level the playing field” if they want people to run for local or any level of government, and ensure those who do run are compensated for their time and help remove obstacles for those considering running.
“I think what we’re already seeing from municipalities across Alberta, is younger people running for office and the field changing a little bit. I think this policy will help further diversify and allow folks to consider running for office if they desire.”
When asked if they looked at the compensation of other municipal councils, CAO Jeffrey Coffman said in 2021 they did a review and looked at nearby municipalities including Picture Butte, Raymond, Coaldale and Magrath, and Coalhurst was on the lower end in terms of compensation. The updated policy brings those numbers up to around the 60th percentile in relation to those municipalities.
“We don’t want people to be afraid of running for council down the road because it might be a financial hit to them,” said Coun. Scott Akkermans, who also sits on the Policy Bylaw Risk Review Committee. “Looking at the numbers, what we had in previous years versus where we’re going and what we plan to do with community events, engagement and other opportunities, I don’t think this is that far away from where we would be if we were following the previous structure.”
Coun. Heather Caldwell said that while she appreciated the amount of work that went into the policy, she cannot agree with the parts on compensation for external boards and committees to the town, and asked that they remove the parts on external compensation from the policy.
“My understanding was we were looking at this as a way to provide stability within our budgeting, as well as provide fair compensation and equitable compensation to our council,” said Caldwell. “I don’t want to discourage any council members to become very actively involved in external boards, and committees, because the work that we do with them builds the relationships that allows us to move forward importance for our community, and interest for our community. And if we don’t allow for that kind of compensation, to allow for people to take additional work in hand, then I don’t think it will benefit our community.”
Akkermans said he believed the policy was talking about something like quarterly board meetings, “where you’re just kind of appointed”, but “if you went above and beyond in your position there” and promoted the town, you would be compensated for that work. Mayor Lyndsay Montina added that there was a section in the policy on Extraordinary Compensation, where, with council approval, members of council may be compensated for participating in exceptional meetings or events if no stipend is provided. With the clarification, Caldwell said she was okay moving forward with the policy as it stands.
Council unanimously passed a motion to adopt the Council Remuneration Policy as submitted and that it be implemented to be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2023.