Rhino's Ramblings - Hey Buddy Can You Spare 21 Grand?


By Robert Thomas - Opinion/Commentary

It has to be the biggest issue on the burner right now and it has a lot of people in Moose Jaw steamed.

Is it the effects of the Carbon Tax? No. Is it potholes? No. Is it water main breaks? No.

The issue is fairness or rather what the majority of Budget Committee saw as fairness when it comes to their net pay.

And yes that means an increase in Council’s pay. It is all designed to make up for the Federal Government removing what was a bit of a tax perk which gave elected municipal representatives one-third of their remuneration income tax free. 

Self described by all Committee members who spoke on it – except one Councilor Crystal Froese -  as an “awkward” discussion Budget Committee nevertheless pressed ahead and gave themselves a raise in the name of “fairness.” Thus ensuring they maintained the same take home pay as they did before the tax change. It was all done in the name of “fairness” and five out of seven Committee members agreed to the increase. Councilors Dawn Luhning and Brian Swanson voted against it.

Now will it mean an increase in your property taxes? No it will not. The money will come out of Council’s travel and convention budget line which last year did not spend the entire amount allocated. Monies will now be pooled with Council deciding who has access to the funds.

For the majority of Budget Committee it might sound very neat and tidy but for many taxpayers I spoke to the response was “this is bull$***” to quote one octogenarian. He dutifully promised to toss a couple of quarters in his swear jar at home when I asked him what he thought about it and the fairness in the Committee's decision.

It was a similar message I heard throughout my coffee shop travels. People are struggling to make ends meet and here you had elected officials ensuring their wallets did not grow lighter was a common sentiment.

Even pointing out it would not increase their taxes because the money was being redirected from elsewhere in Council’s budget did not placate them.

As one coffee goer told me “if they have an extra $21,000 there take it and fix the cast iron with it.” And then he went further saying “if there is that kind of extra money how much more are they hiding?”

It all seems like another great City conspiracy theory developing where more than a few citizenry believe Council has stashed crates of gold in some secret slush fund. This magic $21,000 just proves it. The sad fact is, despite the odd time Councilor Brian Swanson decries another magic bag of gold, the City truly is in trouble with a massive infrastructure deficit nobody really can tell you how it is going to be financed.

There was no convincing coffee goers I spoke to as to the fairness in Council’s move as money does not magically appear. It initially came from property taxpayer’s pockets so despite no tax increase as far as coffee drinkers were concerned it was still wrong.

The wind and chilly reception I was hearing from the coffee row was much colder than the - 16C weather with a 60 km wind outside. Yup it felt like someone had just filled everyone's coffee cup with liquid nitrogen in the high Arctic in January.

Perhaps Council has forgot, or is it choose not to remember, their size and remuneration has been a hot button topic for it seems forever. Whether it be their down sizing from ten to six councilors, a failed attempt to move the number back up to eight in a referendum or even the covered up but still obvious four empty Council wall name slots somebody misunderstood the toll the subject takes in the City somebody missed it.

Even speaking the subject of Council’s remuneration came out wrong as it was frequently mispronounced as “renumeration” that is how evil those two words are on the corner of Fairford and Main. Maybe it should have set off alarm bells or at least made speakers hesitate that this was forbidden territory but it didn’t. The jungle that was before them may be as thick as a Brazilian rain forest but someone broke out a sharp machete and Budget Committee continued forward in the debate as the underbrush fell before them.

On the other side of the issue was a message of fairness. Council in many ways correct to see it as a question should they really expect to take home less then when they first applied for the job by seeking election?  Would most people view an effective pay reduction as fair? Of course not. But these are elected officials and as such there are special rules which apply for the public.

But for many when you mentioned this fact there was little if any sympathy with many telling me in the real world fairness does not apply. A tax increase federally does not bring on the same response from their employer to compensate them it is something they simply have to absorb. And Council should simply do the same.

Now was it an economic reason – given the weak local economy – or was it the general overall disdain many traditionally have in our elected officials which is driving this? The answer might be subjective enough you really cannot definitively say. But yes there is a general feeling out there all politicians are overpaid and nothing ever gets done.

The second part which really turned people off was the calling for an outside review into Council’s pay. Another act of seeming fairness many feel will see taxes going up. A measure many were none too pleased with Mayor Frasier Tolmie for bringing up.

Stating that mayors in other cities receive more than what Moose Jaw's mayor receives – a couple for part-time service -  drew comments it was all about Mayor Tolmie wanting a bigger piece of the pie. For some that piece of apple pie was far too large and needed to be downsized or at least don’t let him eat it with cheddar cheese.

But were the Mayor’s concerns justified? 

Sorry I cannot say definitely but he did make one strong point and that being the car allowance the mayor receives is a paltry $100 a month. That in my opinion doesn’t even pay for wear and tear when one needs to consider the mayor does need to get around town. 

A comment which had one calling for the Mayor to be given a couple of discounted bus passes. Yes that is how nasty this whole pay compensation thing can be.

But through the great Budget Committee debate on the compensation issue Councilor Brian Swanson sat silently - speechless it seemed. In the end Councilor Dawn Luhning was the only councilor who spoke against it all to no avail.

It all seems like a done deal and Council will get their raise but as someone told me this still needs to be approved at Council as part of the Budget and then added to the Bylaw. But truthfully barring some true change of heart it all seems like a done deal and it all took less than an hour.

In the entire Budget Committee meetings it ironically for me seemed to be one of the easiest decisions made - now let that sink in.

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