The MD of Bighorn administration building in Exshaw.File Photo/Rocky Mountain Outlook

A long overdue salary review for MD of Bighorn council is underway, but before a report is released, council will debate the formation of an outside committee to provide transparency to potential pay adjustments.

The MD hired consultant Strategic Steps to review council compensation – which was last done more than 13 years ago – after it completed the municipality’s staff salary review earlier this year. It was recommended by MD staff and the consultant to form a public committee to review any recommendations made to council’s wages.

“It removes council from selecting their own salary much like we get a consultant to do a review from the staff [salary],” said Shaina Tutt, Bighorn’s CAO. “It creates a buffer.”

The committee would be advisory in nature and its findings would not bind council, as proposed in its terms of reference. It would consider remuneration of all MD council members, any additional remuneration for the reeve and non-monetary compensation or any other benefits to be provided to council.

The committee would base council compensation on market research in comparable rural municipalities in Alberta as well as local market conditions, according to its terms, which were presented at a governance and priorities committee meeting last week.

The group would report and make recommendations to council on results of the review, and unless otherwise stated by council, would be appointed in the third year of each council’s term, to report in the same year.

Any salary adjustments arising from council’s decisions informed by the committee’s findings would then be implemented at the election of the next council. The next Alberta municipal election is set for 2025.

The proposed committee would be comprised of one former MD elected official recommended by council, three residents of the MD and any other members as deemed appropriate by council.

Reeve Lisa Rosvold questioned whether the recommendation of a former Bighorn council member on the committee was appropriate.

The recommendation of a former or retired council member came from the consultant, explained Tutt.

“By appointing a former or retired member of council, they’re familiar with the salary structure for councillors so I believe that’s the reason why they would include it. It gives that council statement – they can speak to either the challenges or recognize what it means and the amount of work,” she said.

“What some of the public that are in this steering committee may not recognize is the amount of work you do as councillors or as reeve on a day-to-day basis.

“By including a former [member of council], they can speak to that workload component in a way that would be different than me speaking to it on your behalf.”

Banff established an independent remuneration public committee in 2013, which makes recommendations for council’s consideration in the last year of the term of each council. Banff’s mayor position is a full-time seven-day-a-week position at about $102,000 a year, while councillors are a part-time position at roughly $33,000 a year or one-third the mayor’s salary.

In Canmore, the municipality established an independent remuneration committee earlier in 2023. It appointed members from the public in October at its annual organizational meeting.

The committee will meet in 2024 and give recommendations for the 2025-26 budget cycle, but any potential changes won’t occur until the next council is elected. The mayor earns about $102,000 a year and councillors are about one-third the mayor’s salary as a part-time position.

In both communities, councillors can earn per diems while the mayors can’t.

Under the MD’s council and committee remuneration policy, the municipality reviews council and staff salaries annually for cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) measured using the Alberta Consumer Price Index to keep pace with inflation.

As of Jan. 1, 2023, an MD councillor salary is $28,360, while the reeve earns $36,025. Initially, a 6.5 per cent COLA was recommended by administration for council in 2023, however, in June, Coun. Jen Smith successfully amended a motion to a lesser increase of five per cent to align with a recent staff increase.

Base remuneration of council includes attendance of regular and organizational meetings, governance and priorities meetings, budget meetings, any electoral meetings, including regular monthly community association meetings, as well as Bow Valley Builders and Developers Association meetings.

Council and approved committee members are eligible to claim per diems for workshops, meetings, conferences and courses attended on MD business at a rate of $175 per meeting. Additional benefits and allowances permit council members to claim expenses for accommodation, meals and certain transportation costs.

In December 2021, municipal excellence committee members discussed the need for a review of council salaries. The review was allocated in the 2022 capital budget at $50,000. It was hoped by council that its compensation review could become part of the staff salary review, but administration of the time insisted they be done as separate projects and it was pushed to 2023.

Following the completion of its staff salary review in September of this year, council approved a CAO salary increase of $216,000 from $180,000. The director of corporate and community services salary was adjusted from $148,760 to $177,000.

In total, following a closed session to discuss the compensation review, council approved a $334,836 increase to its 2023 budget for MD staff salaries, wages and benefits.

While an increase is not guaranteed, Tutt said a review to ensure council members are paid fairly for their work is “long overdue.”

Results of the compensation review are expected in 2024 and, if approved by council, a compensation review committee will be appointed to make recommendations based on the report. 

By Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Dec 13, 2023 at 16:12

This item reprinted with permission from   Rocky Mountain Outlook   Canmore, Alberta

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