A pay hike for Langley Township’s mayor and council will be phased in over the next four years, but a new travel allowance that will boost their overall compensation by almost 10 per cent will take effect right away.
The altered proposal was approved Monday afternoon after the council remuneration task force said phasing in the salary increases would avoid a pay hike next year and address the “perception issue” about another salary increase 12 months after the mayor’s annual salary went up by 12.6 per cent and councillor pay rates rose by 19 percent. Those raises took effect when the new council took office in December, 2011.
That was a “catch-up” after several years of no salary increases, task force chair Barbara Sharp, a former North Vancouver City mayor, said in a written memo to council.
“It is our view that any public sensitivities to increases in 2013 would be more a matter of perception than reality,” Sharp wrote.
While the phasing in means no increase in the mayor or councillor salaries next year, they will get a new $340 a month travel allowance on top of their salary of $42,936, which adds $4,080 to their overall compensation, an increase of 9.5 per cent.
Mayor Jack Froese will get a travel allowance of $850 a month, which amounts to another $10,200 on top of his salary of $105,456, an increase of 9.7 per cent.
At the Monday afternoon Township council meeting that approved the proposal, remuneration task force spokesman Darcy Rezac defended the proposed new travel allowance.
“It’s very common,” Rezac said.
“It’s very common in business and it’s common in government.”
And it should be considered “quite separate” from the salary increase, Rezac added.
Three councillors, Kim Richter, Bob Long and David Davis disagreed and voted against it.
Richter said council already gets an allowance.
“We have one-third of our salary tax-free and I understand that was to be used to fund travel,” Richter said.
A Revenue Canada interpretation bulletin issued in 1976 (IT-292) states elected municipal officials can avoid paying taxes on up to a third of their annual salary by declaring it to be an “expense allowance” which includes “mileage or other traveling allowance.”
Long said he would prefer to see the travel allowance phased in like the pay raise.
Davis had earlier said said he did not want to decide his own pay increase.
The rest of council voted for the allowance and slowed-down pay increase.
Councillor Michelle Sparrow, who was absent for the previous week’s debate on the new pay formula, supported the proposal by the independent volunteer task force as the best way of handling what she called the “hot potato” issue of council compensation.
“Arm’s-length was the correct move,” Sparrow said.
Councillor Steve Ferguson said the workload of council members has increased.
“My wife is mad at me because I’m spending more time on council than I ever did,” Ferguson said.
Councillor Charlie Fox, who has been on council eight years, said the workload of the councillors “has increased incrementally,” more than his salary has gone up.
“I’m rarely home for dinner,” Fox said.
During last week’s debate on the proposal, Fox had argued for delaying the pay increase until after the next election.
Councillor Grant Ward supported the new allowance, saying “I do an awful lot of traveling on behalf of this council.”
The new formula aims to avoid the escalating pay hikes and controversies that ensued under the previous system that set Langley Township council pay adjustments based on what other Lower Mainland municipalities were paying their mayors and councillors.
“We were all uncomfortable” with the previous process, said Councillor Bev Dornan, who supported the new approach as a made-in-Langley solution.
“It’s a process devised by Langley residents,” Dornan said.
Froese said council should follow through with the recommendation of the task force it appointed.
“Thankfully, this (pay hikes issue) doesn’t come before us too often,” Froese said.
At the close of the evening meeting, Councillor Fox approached the press table in the council chambers.
“I did not get a pay raise,” Fox said. “I got a travel allowance.”
He did not, he said, want to see news reports suggesting otherwise.
Froese later noted the travel allowance is not mandatory and any councillor who objects can refuse it.
The new pay raise formula uses an average of the salaries of a federal MP, provincial MLA, provincial government cabinet minister, Langley RCMP superintendent and the principal of the largest high school in Langley.
The task force averaged out the salaries to produce a figure of $138,086, then calculated the mayor’s pay rate at 80 per cent of the average, and councillors’ pay at 40 per cent of the mayor’s pay.
The revised approach adopted Monday night will reduce the mayor’s salary to 77 per cent of that amount, meaning no increase for Froese or for the councillors next year.
The figure will rise by one percentage point a year until it reaches 80 per cent in 2016.