Council pay won’t be tackled by current administration

(Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

CORNWALL – The current administration won’t touch the political hot potato of how much their future counterparts will be paid to serve on Cornwall City Council.

The council agreed Monday night (July 9) to defer the issue and let the next council deal with it, after the Oct. 22 municipal election.

Coun. Denis Carr mused that there wasn’t the “intestinal fortitude” to make a decision and stick with it.

In the months before the 2014 election, then-Mayor Bob Kilger split a tie vote, approving massive raises for the next council, which would have seen the mayor paid $74,600 and each councillor getting $25,600, based on a consultant’s study. The raise was quickly pulled back on Jan. 12, 2015, replaced by a cost of living increase. The salary issue caused a public firestorm in the weeks leading up to the election.

But on Monday night, two councillors – Elaine MacDonald and Carilyne Hebert – wanted to press forward with at least addressing the tax exemption issue.

As of January, the federal government is removing a one-third tax exemption status for municipally elected officials, meaning the city would have to top up the mayor and councillors pay $8,600 and $1,500 respectively so they would end up with the same take-home pay they’re getting now. The mayor currently makes nearly $53,000 a year while a councillor makes nearly $16,000 annually.

Elaine MacDonald, a known proponent for taxation, called it a “fundamental problem” with taxation for elected officials.

In an interview with Cornwall Newswatch, MacDonald said the change is significant and might discourage younger people from running for office.

“This means, in fact, we’d take significantly less take-home pay and I’m sure nobody intends that. Council has often said they’ll only have a cost of living increase and I thought they even said zero one year, but certainly nothing above the cost of living. This would be a significant subtraction,” MacDonald said.

The tax exemption on one-third of their salary was meant to compensate politicians for their duties. As of next year, they will have to pay tax on their entire salary. MacDonald was asked if councillors should be any different than constituents when it comes to taxes on their paycheque.

“I’ve never objected to paying taxes. But my objection there is, because of the federal government’s change, our take home pay is impacted. That is a totally separate issue,” she said.

She described it as an “inadvertent reduction of pay” that is “unintended.”

The councillor was asked whether pay is a determining factor whether people run for council.

“People are always lamenting, we need young people on council, and we do! For the most part you have retired people who can afford, who’ve got the time first of all, and secondly who can afford to work for very little money. But if you have got somebody starting out in a career, especially if they’ve got a young family, they can’t put in these hours for so little money. If we want to change the complexion of council, then…we have to make the remuneration…fair because $15,000 for the amount of work we do is not fair.”

MacDonald says she can afford to serve on council only because she’s on a pension.

The next council will have a chance to address the tax exemption and salaries before the new year as there is one council meeting in December, after the inauguration, before the change goes into effect Jan. 1, 2019.