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(File photo).

UCPR council bumps up salaries after losing tax break

Wouldn’t it be nice to wake up one day and give yourself a raise?

At its most recent council meeting, the United Counties of Prescott and Russell approved bumping up each member’s remuneration next year.

It’s a move to offset the net loss incurred by new legislation that will kick in next year. On January 1, 2019, council members’ remuneration will no longer be one-third tax exempt. The change came in the 2017 federal budget, which said, “tax exemption for non-accountable expense allowances paid to members of provincial and territorial legislative assemblies and to certain municipal office holders…provides an advantage that other Canadians do not enjoy.”

Apparently the UCPR didn’t agree.

Stéphane Parisien, CAO of the UCPR, called the changes “unfair.”

New numbers

To be clear, there is nothing forcing council to increase its members’ salary. So, what do the changes look like?

The warden’s salary is about $37,700 and under the current legislation, after all is said and done he would take home about $29,700. For a councillor, the annual salary is $19,200 and they each take home $15,200.

If the UCPR didn’t increase salaries, under the new legislation the warden would take home $25,650, about $4,000 less; councillors would make $13,200 net, about $2,000 less. Members would also keep their per diem allowance when attending committee meetings and conferences at $150 and $100, respectively. Finally, this option would still cost the UCPR nearly $15,000 more as it would lose the GST/HST rebate on the one-third tax-xempt portion of the salary, and it would make more contributions towards CPP, EHT and the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System.

Now with approved changes, the warden will be making $6,000 more and councillors $3,000 more to take home with the same totals. The per diem will also be increased to $160 and $105 for committee meetings and conferences, respectively. These changes will cost $45,500 next year.

Why now?

With a municipal election later this year, there’s a possibility the current council becomes a “lame duck,” restricting its ability to make decisions.

During the meeting, Hawkesbury Mayor Jeanne Charlebois suggested waiting until after the election to decide whether or not to increase council members’ salaries.

UCPR Warden François St. Amour  jumped in and said that current council “has the power” to make the change now. While true, the decision will not be affecting current council. Ultimately, council went ahead with the chances with Charlebois voting against the resolution.

In a follow-up email, The Review asked St. Amour how he justified raising salaries to taxpayers.

“We often make decisions that affect taxpayers,” he wrote. “I don’t find this one to be excessive.” He added that the decision was justified by the minimum wage increase. “With all the hours we put it, I’d have trouble taking a loss of salary.”

Asked why he wanted to take the decision before the election, he said the future council could reverse the decision if it so chooses.

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