Sackville Town Council passed its 2020 budget Monday night after two councillors failed in their attempt to eliminate $144,000 allocated for certain capital projects and spend that money on “recreational infrastructure” instead.
Councillors Shawn Mesheau and Bruce Phinney moved and seconded a motion to eliminate $80,000 for a dog park; $55,000 for improved trails and bridges in the main Waterfowl Park as well as in the Lund extension to it and $9,000 for resurfacing a pickle ball court.
“A lot of things on this budget are wants, not needs,” Phinney said, adding that it would not be “fiscally responsible” to approve these capital projects.
He acknowledged that each of them would still have to be brought back to council in the new year for final approval.
“But I don’t want people in the public thinking that I’m in agreement with these here things that are put on this budget at the present time,” Phinney said.
Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken spoke against amending the budget after all the work that had gone into it.
“We had a whole series of meetings earlier in the fall assigning priorities to various things; we looked at [the] response from the public about priorities,” he said, adding that town staff had also spent “considerable time” drafting the budget.
Aiken said he could not support replacing the budget allocations for specific capital projects with spending on undefined “infrastructure stuff.”
Councillor Michael Tower agreed. He suggested that even though most councillors seem to be against an $80,000 dog park, council will get its chance to scale down that project or eliminate it entirely when it comes up for approval in the new year.
After the debate, Deputy Mayor Aiken and Councillors Tower, O’Neil, Black and Evans voted against amending the budget with only Councillors Mesheau and Phinney voting in favour.
The $11.3 million 2020 budget maintains town services with no increase in the property tax rate or in municipal fees and no need for borrowing to finance $1.2 million in general capital projects. However, the town will still need to borrow $462,000 for capital improvements to its water and sewer systems.
To view the final budget documents, click here.
Council debates proposed pay raise
Meantime, Councillor Joyce O’Neil proposed that town staff be directed to change the bylaw setting the salaries of the mayor, deputy mayor and councillors to make up for their loss of income resulting from a tax change that took effect last January.
That’s when the federal government eliminated an allowance that enabled municipal office holders to escape paying taxes on up to a third of their salaries.
The tax-free allowances, in place since 1953, covered work-related expenses that did not have to be accounted for.
O’Neil proposed that to make up for the loss of income, the mayor’s salary be raised from $14,656 to $17,700; the deputy mayor’s from $8,676 to $10,500 and that councillors’ pay go from $7,699 to $9,300.
Councillor Phinney, who seconded O’Neil’s motion, said the federal change meant the mayor and council were earning less money and paying more taxes.
“I don’t know anybody who wants to pay more taxes,” he said. “What we’re doing is just putting back in place what our salary was before the change and I think that’s only fair.”
Evans opposes raise
Councillor Bill Evans read a statement opposing pay increases on the grounds that since everyone pays taxes on their whole income, it’s not fair for elected officials to get special treatment.
“We have enjoyed a perk that none of our citizens have enjoyed and now we’re going to lose that perk and we’ll have to pay tax the same way everybody else does,” Evans said.
He added that no one on council makes a living from the salaries they receive.
“This is a part-time job, a sideline. We support ourselves by other means,” he said.
“Where is the evidence to support the case that paying councillors more would be better for the municipality as a whole? What problem are we trying to fix?” he asked.
“Our job as councillors is to look after the town’s cookie jar and I don’t think that helping ourselves to the cookies is fair to the people who elected us,” Evans concluded.
To read a transcript of Evans’s statement, click here.
No one other than Phinney and Evans commented on Councillor O’Neil’s motion and when Mayor Higham called the vote, O’Neil herself along with Councillors Phinney and Mesheau supported it.
Deputy Mayor Aiken along with Councillors Evans, Black and Tower voted against giving themselves higher pay.
Councillor Allison Butcher was absent.
Amherst council voted for raise
Sackville Town Council’s rejection of a pay raise stands in sharp contrast to Amherst Town Council’s majority vote in favour of one last February.
The Amherst News quotes Mayor David Kogon as saying that the raise was meant to replace income lost because of the federal tax changes.
The newspaper reports that after the vote, Amherst councillors’ pay went from $21,542 to $25,050; the deputy mayor’s pay went from $24,375 to $27,723, while the mayor’s increased from $36,447 to $41,178.
To read the full report, click here.
To read coverage of Sackville Town Council’s discussion of the pay raise issue in September, click here.