Nova Scotia

CBRM councillors getting a raise, but they won't get to enjoy it

Provincial MLAs and Halifax regional councillors eliminated the one-third tax-free salary benefit years ago, and CBRM officials say most municipal councils are boosting council remuneration to compensate for the lost benefit.

'We're not giving ourselves raises,' says Coun. Kendra Coombes

CBRM council voted to hike councillor pay about 17 per cent and the mayor's pay about 24 per cent, which takes effect when the federal benefit ends on Jan 1. (George Mortimer/CBC)

Cape Breton regional council members are getting a pay raise, but they won't see a cent of it.

The federal government is eliminating the one-third tax-free salary politicians have enjoyed for years.

Provincial MLAs and Halifax regional councillors eliminated the benefit years ago, and CBRM officials say most municipal councils are boosting council remuneration to compensate for the lost benefit.

Net pay the same

CBRM council voted to hike councillor pay about 17 per cent and the mayor's pay about 24 per cent, which takes effect when the federal benefit ends on Jan 1.

The pay hike means elected officials be taxed on the entire salary, but take home the same net pay as before.

Coun. Kendra Coombes says councillors aren't really getting a raise since they will take home the same net pay. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Historically, the tax-free portion was intended to cover expenses incurred on municipal or provincial business.

But for years, governments have also compensated elected officials for things like mileage and meals.

'We're not giving ourselves raises'

Coun. Kendra Coombes said the changing federal tax rules meant CBRM had no choice.

"Nothing's really changing in our salary," she said.

"We're not giving ourselves raises or anything like that. We're going to gross more, net the same, and our taxes that we are going to pay are going to go back into the Canadian coffers."

Councillors Earlene MacMullin and Steve Gillespie said the tax change won't exactly be neutral.

Both have full-time jobs away from council and say they will pay more in income tax because of their higher incomes.

Pay increase incentives

But MacMullin said she approves of the increase to keep from scaring away potential council candidates in future.

"Elections are coming up," she said.

"You want good people, strong people, young people, old people, brave people. You want all these people to run. They're not going to run if the money doesn't match."

Coun. Steve Gillespie said the tax change won't exactly be neutral. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Gillespie supported the pay increase, but said the federal government didn't have to take away the tax-free benefit.

He had taken some heat for recent comments in a local newspaper and on social media, but said he hasn't changed his mind.

"I would not expect anyone employed in the CBRM of our 700-and-some-odd employees to take home less money for the job they are doing now, tomorrow," he said. "It's not fair.

"I, of course, have been in the media talking about that the federal government got greedy, and I still believe they have."

The salary changes

Under the new pay rates, the mayor's salary goes from $116,000 annually to $144,000.

The deputy mayor's pay rises from $47,000 to $56,000, and councillor pay goes from $42,000 to $49,000.

The move will cost the municipality an extra $35,000 for the rest of this fiscal year and $140,000 annually after that.

Coun. Earlene MacMullin said she approves of the increase to keep from scaring away potential council candidates in future. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Meanwhile, council also made changes to its expense policy.

Some of the changes bring the policy in line with provincial legislation, while one change has been a longstanding thorn in the side of some taxpayers.

Receipts for travel expenses

The $140-per-week travel allowance used to be automatic, with no actual travel or receipts required.

Some councillors even collected the pay while out of the province.

Under the new policy, the weekly travel allowance will be pro rated by day, and trips and mileage must be reported. If a councillor is away or unavailable for municipal business on any given day, the allowance will not be paid.

In addition, CBRM will be following provincial legislation requiring council member expenses to be reported publicly on a regular basis.

CBRM director of information technology John MacKinnon said starting Dec. 1, the municipality will begin posting councillors' and the mayor's expenses monthly on the provincial open data portal.