Surprise, council just got more expensive!

OPINION

By Scott Costen

With as little fanfare as possible, Region of Queens council stuck taxpayers with a hefty bill last month.

Faced with the elimination of a longstanding tax benefit which made one-third of their salaries tax-free, council members voted overwhelmingly in favour of boosting their own pay. Effective Jan. 1, when the federal tax benefit is rescinded, the mayor will be paid $41,730 annually (compared to $37,610 in fiscal year 2017/18). Councillors will be paid $20,865 (compared to $18,805 in 2017/18).

To be clear, this isn’t a “pay raise” in the conventional sense. After taxes, the mayor and councillors will be taking home roughly the same amount they did before. But that’s only because they’ll be getting more municipal money to offset the impact of a closed federal loophole.

According to a report from RQM’s finance director, Jennifer Keating-Hubley, taxpayers will be on the hook for an additional $4,635 in council salaries in the first three months of 2019. After that, we’ll paying at least $18,659 more each year to keep our elected officials in the lifestyles to which they’ve become accustomed.

As a result, our part-time councillors will soon be making more than full-time workers toiling 35 hours a week for Nova Scotia’s miserly minimum wage.

I imagine most of you are hearing all this for the first time. That’s because RQM made no effort to tell you. (Although I had your backs, noting the decision in a council dispatch for a print edition of LighthouseNow Progress Bulletin.)

RQM did publish a tweet about the salary increases Sept. 11. But I found no announcement on the region’s Facebook page or its website. RQM officials made seven different Facebook posts Sept. 11, but not one about this added expense. Somehow the municipality that famously issued a news release about a portable toilet didn’t find this particularly newsworthy.

While council voted overwhelmingly (7-1) in favour of higher salaries, the decision was not unanimous. Councillor Gil Johnson voted against it, telling me later that municipal taxpayers shouldn’t pay more because the federal government decided to close a dubious loophole.

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