Town updates remuneration, travel policy

Duane Hicks

The Town of Fort Frances is looking to brings its remuneration and travel policy for both staff and members of council up to date, and a committee formed just for that purpose put the finishing touches on a draft policy this morning.
The proposal includes a minor increase to remuneration to the positions of mayor and council, which, if approved, will come into effect Dec. 1, 2010 to coincide with the installation of the 2010-2014 council.
The draft policy recommends the position of mayor be paid $23,000 per year, instead of $22,322 as it is now, while councillor remuneration will increase to $12,000 from $10,507.
The deputy mayor also will see an increase from $10,507 to $13,500.
The committee pointed out the increase to pay is small, adding the last time the salary structure was revised was in 2003, at which time the pay for mayor and council actually went down when the benefits package they used to receive was cut, reducing total salaries by about $4,000.
The benefits package continues to be offered as an option council members can buy into at their own expense if they choose.
For example, the change is the mayor’s salary only represents a three percent increase over seven years (2003-10) while the pay hike for councillors only amounts to a 14 percent increase over seven years (2003-10).
In the revised policy, the benefits package option will remain status quo.
Coun. John Albanese said the public should realize the increase is modest, and that factoring in the previous benefits package offered before 2003, councillors still will be paid less in 2010 than they were in 1985.
Another change is that per diem rates will be increased from $120/full day to $150/full day (five or more hours) or $74/half-day (less than five hours).
Mayor Roy Avis said a change has to be made to more fairly compensate councillors who sit on any number of the 30-plus town committees.
For example, unless a councillor is retired or independently wealthy, they often are expected to take several hours, or sometimes even days, off work to attend meetings in and out of town.
The per diem should help compensate them for having to miss work.
On the same note, when per diem rates are applicable will be clarified. Right now, members of council are eligible to get paid for basically any meeting that takes place out of town.
The revised policy indicates that mayor and council only will get paid per diems to attend meetings when so authorized by a resolution of council.
These resolutions would come forward when, for instance, council states its intent for mayor and/or councillors to attend a certain conference, like the multi-day Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association’s annual general meeting, or appoint one of its members to a body, like the Rainy River District Municipal Association.
Mayor Avis said making the council resolution a per diem stipulation not only will clarify when per diems are to be claimed, but provides “transparency” to the public.
“I do believe what we’ve done right now is much better than jut saying, if you travel outside of Fort Frances, the per diem is paid,” he noted.
“With the boundary being where it is, if we went to Couchiching regarding sewer and water and what have you, under the old policy we would have got paid a per diem.”
The draft policy also clarifies what is inside and outside Northwestern Ontario for the purposes of adjusting meal allowances and other expenses.
Sudbury and everything west (including Manitoba) are considered inside while locations east and south of Sudbury are considered outside.
Mayor Avis noted the travel policy is the same for town employees and members of council.
With regards to the use of town vehicles and personal vehicles, the mayor clarified the town van is used for travel most of the time. If anybody elects to use their own vehicle, they don’t get paid for mileage but strictly for fuel costs.
They also have to sign a waiver regarding using the insurance on their own vehicle while on town business.
Committee members also agreed mileage should be aligned with the mileage paid by the Canada Revenue Agency (as the City of Thunder Bay does), and that mileage, food, and other expenses should be reviewed annually.
The draft policy now will be forwarded to the Administration and Finance executive committee for review, which, in turn, will make its recommendation to council regarding the policy at a future council meeting.
Fort Frances Clerk Glenn Treftlin said the revised policy should be in place well ahead of the 2010 election so candidates, who can begin filing nominations in January, will be aware of details like remuneration and travel before they toss their names in the ring.