Town of Comox new council (from left) Alex Bissinger, Ken Grant, Nicole Minions, Mayor Russ Arnott, Stephanie McGowan, Maureen Swift and Pat McKenna. Photo by Kim Stallknecht

Comox council approves salary increase to offset tax change

In their first council meeting since the October municipal election, Comox council voted in favour of a 14 per cent increase in remuneration, but council members were quick to highlight the rationale behind the increase.

In a report from Shelly Russwurm, deputy corporate administrator for the Town, the Comox Council Remuneration and Expense Bylaw recommended the increase, due to an upcoming change to the accounting rules for mayor and councillor.

Russwurm explained the federal income tax act is being revised to eliminate the tax-exempt portion of council remuneration, and the impact of the act would actually see a reduction in council take-home pay.

(Up to Dec. 31, 2018, one-third of a councillor or mayor’s pay was exempt from taxes, i.e. $11,209 for the mayor. As of Jan. 1, 2019, there will no longer be an exemption. The increase in pay is equivalent to the amount of taxes to be paid on the previously exempt portion.)

“If it doesn’t pass, the remuneration would actually decrease,” she added.

Coun. Pat McKenna stated his opposition to the motion and added the optics and timing of the motion is not appropriate.

Mayor Russ Arnott said the previous council didn’t want to hide behind the motion, and that all councils across Canada are dealing with the change in the act.

Coun. Nicole Minions agreed, but added the optics of dealing with the bylaw during the first meeting of the new council does “create a challenge, but it makes sense.”

The 2018 remuneration annually is $33,628 for mayor and $17,724 per councillor; the bylaw would update the annual salaries to $38,384 for mayor and $20,230 for councillors.

The motion passed with McKenna being the sole opponent.

Shakesides back on the agenda

Because of the new council, Town staff presented a report requesting council’s direction with an application currently before the court to modify the Mack Laing Trust.

The application is seeking approval to modify the trust from the current requirement to convert Laing’s former residence Shakesides to a nature house and instead remove the home and construct a viewing platform with the funds that are currently held in the trust.

The report presented council with four options: to move forward with the application to modify the trust; that council extend an invitation to representatives of the Mack Laing House Society (MLHS) to attend a Dec. 12 council meeting to present more information on their business; that council defer any decision regarding the modification of the trust until Jan. 16, 2019 to allow time for all members of council to fully consider all the previous background information related to the application to modify the trust as well as a submitted business plan by Gordon Olsen; that council suspend any further action on the application to modify the trust.

Coun. Alex Bissinger suggested council postpone any decision until after Christmas, and to invite the Mack Laing Society to council to discuss their business plan.

Coun. Ken Grant reminded council anyone or any group can come to council as a delegation at any time. He later moved to defer the decision until the first council meeting in Feburary.

The motion was then tabled until consideration of correspondence later in the meeting. A letter by J-Kris Nielsen, president of the MLHS, asked council to tarp the roof the Shakesides due to its deteriorating state.

The decision to defer a decision until the Feb. 6, 2019 council meeting as well as have the Town place a tarp over Shakesides was passed unanimously.

Increase to water rate

A motion to increase the annual flat water rate by $12 to $387 per year ($32.25 per month) for each residential and commercial customer for the 2019 calendar year was approved unanimously.

Following a question over water costs, Mayor Russ Arnott and Coun. Ken Grant explained the increase is primarily due to the bulk water rate purchase from the Comox Valley Regional District and to cover future infrastructure costs.

Dog park in Comox?

Coun. Maureen Swift put forth a notice of motion that staff be directed into looking at the cost and location of an off-leash dog park and dog walking area.

The motion will be brought forth for discussion at the next regular council meeting.

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