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Amherst mayor and council increase their pay

Before voting in favour of a pay increase, Amherst town councillor Jason Blanch explained how he came to his decision.
Before voting in favour of a pay increase, Amherst town councillor Jason Blanch explained how he came to his decision. - Dave Mathieson

Christie votes against pay raise, wants council reduced from six to four

AMHERST, N.S. – Amherst town council voted in favour of giving themselves a pay raise during the Feb. 25 meeting of town council.

“It should be noted that these are to allow the net income of council to remain as it was before the tax changes,” said mayor David Kogon, before council passed the motion to approve the increase in council remuneration.

The change to the federal Income Tax Act, effective Jan. 1, 2019, discontinued the practice of exempting one-third of council pay from income tax. The approved pay raise will not increase take-home pay but will offset the pay loss incurred following changes to the Income Tax Act.

With the passing of the motion, town councilors current take-home pay of $21,542 will go up to $25,050; the deputy mayor’s pay increases from $24,375 to $27,723, and the mayor’s pay increases from $36,447 to $41,178.

Mayor and council, with the exception of deputy mayor Sheila Christie, voted in favour of the motion, while councillor Wayne MacKenzie did not attend the meeting.

Before the vote, Christie said she didn’t know what the council salary was when she threw her hat in the ring for the 2016 election.

“I signed on for a position for four years and happily accepted what that position was for the four years, regardless of what federal tax changes are, so I will be on record for not voting for this increase.”

After the vote, Christie said she will bring a notice to the next council meeting to help offset the cost of the pay increase.

“I will be bringing forward a special notice for the next meeting asking staff to reduce the number of councillors from six to four,” said Christie. “And I will be bringing forward a second notice that follows up what we asked staff to investigate that, in the future, council does not set their own pay and that we look seriously at setting up something formally for an outside, independent group to do that.”

After Christie spoke, town CAO Greg Herrett, made a clarification on Christie’s notice.

“The municipal government act requires that council makes the final decision with respect to remuneration,” said Herrett, adding that, although outside commissions can make recommendations, in the end, Nova Scotia law requires council to make the final decision.

Before the vote, Jason Blanch was the only councillor who talked about why he was going to vote in favour of the pay raise.

“I will be honest, it does hurt to have a pay that you’re used to for two years and then notice that you’re getting substantially less, and not for having done less of a job,” said Blanch.

Pointing to a study by the Halifax Regional Municipality, Blanch said it’s not a good idea to overpay or underpay councilors.

“It said you can do more harm having it low than high because people won’t come out for the position,” said Blanch.

Blanch said it is unfortunate that the new tax law came into effect, forcing them to decide on pay increases.

“I believe, after reviewing all the information, that it is the best decision to do what virtually every other municipality is doing across the country and adjust our wage accordingly and move forward,” said Blanch. “It’s worth noting it’s not a decision I’ve taken lightly or one that was easy to make. Politically it would be wise to vote against it but, in all honesty, the fair decision in running a community is to make this decision.”

On Jan. 23, the Municipality of Cumberland County decided not to change their pay to offset the changes to the Income Tax Act.

Following the decision, county Warden Allison Gillis said to the Amherst News, “We’re going to pay the tax. You know, when most people have a hit to their salary they don’t have the ability to increase their salary to make up the difference. As a council we were in agreement we would not raise our salary. We’re going to take the hit.”

A synopsis of council remuneration in the Feb. 25 council package said, “The majority of Municipalities in Nova Scotia are increasing the compensation effective January 1, 2019, (16), with some not increasing it at all (3), and some deferring until budget discussions (7).”

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