ARICHAT: Councillors voted to give themselves an 11 per cent increase in their stipends to offset federal tax changes.

During the committee of the whole meeting of Richmond Municipal Council last night in Arichat, Chief Administrative Officer Kent MacIntyre told council that Revenue Canada introduced changes to the Income Tax Act, which take effect in the near year, eliminating the non-taxable expense portion of the stipends for elected officials.

“Essentially what it does is it decreases the take-home pay for elected officials, when this adjustment is considered,” MacIntyre told council.

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MacIntyre said Richmond consulted with 28 municipalities, and of those, 15 municipal units are moving forward with increases to their stipends. He said the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities (NSFM) recommended all municipalities in the province adjust pre-tax levels of compensation for councillors to offset the tax changes.

To make the adjustment so there is no impact to councillors’ salaries would require an 11 per cent increase in stipends, MacIntyre said, pointing out that the cost to the municipality would be $16,000.

Reasoning that since the municipality has already been reduced to five districts from 10, that districts have doubled in size and responsibilities have increased, the CAO noted that Richmond County has saved $115,000, plus expenses by reducing the size of council.

With the increase, the warden’s stipend will increase to $46,042, the deputy warden’s to $30,693 and for councillors, it would go up to $24,558, MacIntyre noted.

Telling council that “money’s never been an issue with me,” since he didn’t know how much councillors made until after he was elected, district 4 councillor Gilbert Boucher said Revenue Canada should have started this process in 2016 at the beginning of the council term, or at least wait until 2020.

“I don’t like the idea of the federal government coming in, in the middle of my mandate and taking $4,000 from me,” Boucher told council. “In my case, it’s going to be a lot more than that, because I have a large income.”

Boucher added criticism of the NSFM for not lobbying the provincial and federal governments against these tax changes.

Deputy Warden Brian Marchand charged that although he believes this is a way for the government to take more money out of the pockets of elected officials, he could not support the motion.

Echoing Boucher’s assertion that the tax changes amount of a “cash grab,” Marchand was critical of the NSFM for not giving municipalities and the public more advanced notice.

District 2 councillor Alvin Martell said since council did not seek a stipend increase when the number of districts was cut by half and now that councillors “have double the work,” he supported the motion to increase the stipend.

District 1 councillor James Goyetche added criticism of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for not notifying municipalities sooner. But since the increase will cost $16,000, while the municipality saved “close to $200,000” with the reduction of council, he also supported the motion.

“For the amount of money we’re talking about, to make the adjustment, $16,000, I don’t think it’s something that’s drastic…,” Goyetche told council. “I don’t think it’s a big amount to put on the burden of the municipality… We have wasted a lot more than that.”

Warden Jason MacLean called the tax changes unnecessary and unwelcome in the middle of the council term, but considering the number of municipalities which have already voted to increase their stipends, he felt it was the “right choice.”

“You’re coming into a term with expectations and then halfway through that, laws change and therefore the stipend was changed,” MacLean said. “It’s certainly a bit of a sticky situation when you’re responsible for making your own raise and how that might look, but all things considered, I think for the most part, council was on board with that, with one vote in the nay.”