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Salaries for municipal leaders in the capital region vary widely

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/2/2015 (1344 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When West St. Paul Mayor Bruce Henley went campaigning door-to-door for re-election last fall, he would ask constituents what they thought the mayor got paid.

The figures people gave were all over the map. Many said in the $50,000 to $75,000 range. One person even said more than $100,000. Some said under $25,000.

It's a bit of a shell game the way rural municipalities report their salaries -- or how they don't -- so constituents might well be confused. There is also a profusion of permitted expenses for attending events and allowances for fuel and cellphones.

It's timely for constituents to know what their elected officials earn, as payments are all being reviewed - a common practice following a municipal election to set rates for the next four years. A Free Press survey of the 15 capital-region municipalities that ring Winnipeg yielded big differences from one RM to another. Compensation to the west of Winnipeg tends to be lower - logical as the populations are smaller and growth lower.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/2/2015 (1344 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When West St. Paul Mayor Bruce Henley went campaigning door-to-door for re-election last fall, he would ask constituents what they thought the mayor got paid.

The figures people gave were all over the map. Many said in the $50,000 to $75,000 range. One person even said more than $100,000. Some said under $25,000.

It's a bit of a shell game the way rural municipalities report their salaries — or how they don't — so constituents might well be confused. There is also a profusion of permitted expenses for attending events and allowances for fuel and cellphones.

It's timely for constituents to know what their elected officials earn, as payments are all being reviewed - a common practice following a municipal election to set rates for the next four years. A Free Press survey of the 15 capital-region municipalities that ring Winnipeg yielded big differences from one RM to another. Compensation to the west of Winnipeg tends to be lower - logical as the populations are smaller and growth lower.

One of the best bargains may be Henley's West St. Paul council, compact at a mayor and four councillors. Payments were among the lowest for a municipality of 5,000 or more and certainly the lowest for a municipality in the midst of a boom. Henley earned $27,200 in 2012 and $28,810 in 2013. A third of compensation to elected municipal officials is tax-free. If you adjust the tax-free component to what Henley's pre-tax salary would look like to the rest of us, as Free Press personal-finances columnist Joel Schlesinger did for this article, his payment in 2013 still works out to only $32,000.

West St. Paul Mayor Bruce Henley.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

West St. Paul Mayor Bruce Henley.

That's not a lot for a municipality where residential development is about to go into warp speed, thanks to a nearly completed sewer hookup with the City of Winnipeg.

At the other end of the scale is the adjoining RM of St. Andrews. Mayor Don Forfar, who retired in 2014, made almost $60,000 in 2012, pared back to $51,000 in 2013. Taking into consideration the tax-free element, that's the equivalent of $70,500 and $59,000 for what has traditionally been a part-time job. However, with population expansion making increased demands on local politicians, the jobs are eating up more and more of their time.

Forfar was surprised he ranked as the top-paid elected official among capital-region municipalities. He said he always treated the mayor's post as a 24/7 job in a municipality with twice the population of West St. Paul, and most people would agree. As well, Forfar put in extra hours as a delegate to the Canadian Federation of Municipalities and other committees.

Another outlier has been Springfield. Jim McCarthy, who was mayor before his defeat last fall, earned $47,600 in 2012 and $48,158 in 2013. That's before expenses, including a fuel allowance for every time a councillor drives to the municipal office, including bi-monthly council meetings. Councillors in Springfield were the best paid in the capital region in 2013, all pushing or exceeding $40,000 before expenses. A review shows payments to council have gone up $8,000 to $10,000 per member since 2002. Many people think it's too high, including McCarthy, who ran last fall on a promise to reduce pay rates. He and two other incumbents went down to defeat.

"I thought the compensation was higher than what it needed to be, quite honestly," McCarthy said. "I would have felt comfortable reducing it by 10 per cent and setting an example for the rest of the municipality."

They don't call payments to the mayor and council a salary, but rather an indemnity, as historically it was regarded as compensation for taking a person away from their regular job or business.

Bruce Henley responds to a motor vehicle accident as a firefighter in 2004.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Bruce Henley responds to a motor vehicle accident as a firefighter in 2004.

But "double indemnity" is now more like it as many mayors double their pay when they tally up additional hours. Indemnity covers council meetings, digesting reports and responding by phone and email to constituents' concerns. Extra payment covers anything from a special budgetary meeting to spending time on committees, meeting a constituent or attending a street festival. Those extra hours brought McCarthy's total pay to $48,158 in 2013.

Next highest is East St. Paul, with $31,500 for the mayor and $23,500 for councillors. But most salaries are much lower. In Stonewall, the mayor receives $15,000 and councillors $9,000. In West St. Paul, the figures are $16,800 and $13,200.

Forfar's indemnity in St. Andrews was $22,000 in 2013, but that figure leapt almost 2.5 times when hours spent on committees, boards, conferences, festivals or meeting constituents were piled on.

Rates for attending events vary, depending on indemnity bylaws, but it can often mean the meter is running. In St. Andrews, the hourly payment is $17 per hour for a meeting within the RM. A meeting outside the RM triggers a $200 payment if it lasts more than four hours, so there's an incentive for duties to last more than four hours. Meetings held in nearby Selkirk trigger the higher payment. Add another event that same day in Selkirk, you get more. Many people think that's not right.

St. Andrews permits a maximum payment of $325 per day. The daily cap in West St. Paul is $130. The RM of Macdonald, straddling Winnipeg's south flank, has a $180 maximum. Springfield pays $200 for more than six hours.

Many elected officials work long hours. But most officials can tell you stories about people milking the system. "Some guys are professionals at this. We had a member of council who was going to three meetings a day," said one official.

Robert Ataman is leading a charge to cut payments to council members in St. Andrews.

Robert Ataman is leading a charge to cut payments to council members in St. Andrews.

As well, St. Andrews has supplied its mayor and council with cellphones and paid them a monthly communication allowance of $350 for the mayor and $250 for councillors. In St. Clements, those allowances stand at $156.21 for the mayor and $104.14 for councillors. In other RMs, elected officials expense their communication costs.

Who decides how much the mayor and councillors should be paid? They do. Usually, a council will do a survey of other RMs to arrive at a comparable rate of payment. Councils also police each other's claims for expenses and hours of service. It can be a vigorous process, but more typically not, say insiders. You can look like "a jerk" challenging someone's accounting, said one councillor. Most RMs post their financial audits online, but some don't. Some RMs post their indemnity bylaw online, but most don't.

Outside duties and additional hours are not necessarily a sham. Attending meetings and conferences is important, said Henley. "You really need to see what's out there, how other municipalities are doing business, what type of grants they're getting, what's the criteria. We brought in over $800,000 in grants last year" thanks to information gleaned from other municipalities, said Henley.

But questions arise about what should be charged as extra hours. Two years ago, the Beausejour-based weekly, The Clipper, discovered through the Freedom of Information Act that councillors in the RM of Brokenhead were charging to attend municipal golf and curling events, staff barbecues, the local rodeo, municipal Christmas parties and Remembrance Day ceremonies. The council was forced to change its bylaws. Only one council member was returned last October.

The exceptions are Stonewall and Headingley. The financial statement for elected officials in Headlingley, which records 25 to 40 building starts per year, is virtually a work of art in simplicity and accountability.

Officials are paid an indemnity. No pay for extra hours. Mayor Wilf Taillieu, acclaimed last election, is paid $17,400 and councillors $12,000. Sitting on committees and attending events is part of the job, he said. The same applies in Stonewall. Officials in Headingley get no expenses, not even for gas.

It's been that way since Headingley seceded from Winnipeg in 1992, said Taillieu. "We had no intention of taking money from the community. We were being screwed tax-wise by the city. That's why we left. We weren't going to do that here."

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

Bill Redekop

Bill Redekop
Rural Reporter

Bill Redekop has been covering rural issues since 2001.

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History

Updated on Tuesday, February 17, 2015 at 6:36 AM CST: Adds photo, adds cutline

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