Federal tax changes affecting councillors seems to be unwelcome news for municipalities around the Strait area.
During the November meeting of council for the Municipality of the District of Guysborough, councillors voted against a motion to increase their stipend.
The pay raise, which would have come into effect in January, was recommended by the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities (NSFM) as a way to offset the upcoming federal tax changes.
Barry Carroll, Guysborough’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), said notices from the NSFM advised the one-third portion of the stipend elected officials received tax-free has been discontinued by Revenue Canada.
As a result, Carroll explained that elected officials across the country will now have less take-home pay as 100 per cent of their remuneration is going to be taxable. The CAO noted that the tax deduction has been in place for more than 50 years because councillors work from home and travel within their district.
While calling the tax changes “unfair” and noting they were thrust upon municipalities by the federal government, Guysborough Warden Vernon Pitts explained that increasing stipends during a period of budget restraint would be inappropriate.
What was interesting from last month’s meeting in Guysborough was Carroll’s contention that 50 municipalities in the province have increased their total stipend.
That does not include the Municipality of the County of Richmond, where officials were quick to point out to The Reporter that councillors have not increased their stipends.
Port Hawkesbury Town Council also did not vote to hike councillors’ stipends, preferring to table the matter until after the special election for the next town councillor this Saturday.
What will transpire at this and other council tables remains to be seen, but one thing is certain, this resolution has been met with skepticism by municipal officials in this region.
Naturally, those in Guysborough and Richmond are still smarting from the spending controversies of the recent past, and other municipalities are completely unwilling to spur similar uproars in their municipal units.
The NSFM is wrong to put municipalities in a position to approve themselves a pay hike. In fact, no elected official, in any level of government, should be in a position to approve themself a pay raise. That can be done by independent third parties as is the case with electoral boundaries.
And surely the federation should have expected there would be push-back from some municipalities, particularly those which are belt-tightening, or those that have faced sharp criticism for spending.
That leaves local municipalities in an untenable position; vote themselves more money, even though it is compensation for tax changes, or break ranks with municipalities around the province, as well as their governing body.
This is an impossible choice that underscores the need to make the compensation for elected officials a more neutral and transparent process.