Pay hikes possible for elected officials to offset loss of taxable benefit
School trustees and municipal councillors could be getting a pay raise this year in light of changes to a federal tax exemption.
Some Winnipeg school boards have already voted for a pay increase.
The decision isn't sitting well with some parents.
Mom Tracey Drexler, a candidate for school trustee in St. James-Assiniboia during the last election, isn't happy the elected board has voted to give itself a pay raise.
"I was completely shocked,” said Drexler. “It’s very concerning to me that a trustee who sits and represents their community, who has the power to raise our taxes, is raising their pay at the expense of students so that they don’t have to pay taxes.”
Earlier this month the St. James-Assiniboia school board approved a salary increase of 12 per cent for trustees – a pay hike made in light of an income tax change for elected officials.
Trustees and municipal councillors have previously been able to claim a portion of their salary as a taxable benefit but starting this year the exemption no longer exists.
Trustees in St. James-Assiniboia previously received a little more than $16, 000 a year.
With the increase, they'll now get paid $18, 000 a year.
The chairperson's salary increases from nearly $21, 000 to $23, 000.
In an emailed statement the chairperson of the St. James-Assiniboia school board, Cheryl Smukowich, said trustee pay rates have been restructured as a cost neutral initiative for the 2018-19 fiscal year.
"This was achieved by eliminating both the trustee reimbursement for mileage, as well as, the hourly indemnity for qualifying functions/meetings,” the statement reads. “The restructure of the trustee indemnity will not reduce or affect any service provided by the school division to our students or staff. The changes to the trustee budget will fully cover the trustee indemnity change – ensuring that the restructure has zero impact on our students, staff and the taxation of our community.”
St. James-Assiniboia isn't alone.
Trustees in the Winnipeg School Division and Pembina Trails School Division will also be getting a pay raise.
Alan Campbell, the president of the Manitoba School Boards Association and a school trustee in the Interlake who won't be getting a pay raise, said it's up to each school board to decide how to deal with the issue.
"Essentially what it amounts to is a reduction in the pay and we're not talking about lucrative salaries here so essentially what you're discussing is making the job less appealing,” said Campbell. “It amounts to a pay cut, an arbitrary cut and therefore diminishes the value of the work that’s being done and people aren’t flooding in to run for school board or for municipal positions and that’s a consideration.
“I would certainly encourage those who have elected the trustees around the table, who either have made these decisions or are considering them, I would encourage those who live in those divisions to ask questions about what that means to them.”
Drexler thinks the money used to offset the tax change could be better spent elsewhere in school budgets.
She wants the St. James-Assiniboia board to reconsider.
The change doesn’t affect the salaries paid to Winnipeg city councillors because council voted in Sept. 2011 to eliminate the one-third tax-free portion of their salaries.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has provided a guide to municipalities on how to deal with this issue.
The options laid out include providing a salary increase to fully offset the tax change, partially offset it or take no action.
Ted Fransen, the superintendent of the Pembina Trails School Division, said the previous school board approved a pay hike of 14 per cent for the newly-elected Pembina Trails board.
Fransen said the change took effect this month and means the take home pay for trustees is close to the same this year as it was last year.