Battle against council travel allowance remains a hot topic

The battle over a controversial travel allowance for Langley Township councillors was reopened Monday when Councillors Kim Richter and David Davis tried to convince the rest of council to cancel it, or at least have the whole idea reviewed by a tax expert.

Most members of council have opted out, with Mayor Jack Froese declining his $850 a month allowance and Richter, Davis, Charlie Fox, Bob Long and Michelle Sparrow turning down their $340 a month allowance.

Sparrow did not disclose her decision until Monday night, when she was asked by The Times.

“I choose at this time not to accept the the travel allowance,” Sparrow said. “It’s unfortunate that it’s become a chance to gain political points.”

Councillors Bev Dornan, Steve Ferguson and Grant Ward have accepted the allowance, and Ferguson has said he will donate the money to charity.

Richter, with support from Davis, called on council to do away with the allowance altogether.

“If a majority of council isn’t taking it, why do we even have it?” Richter asked.

“It doesn’t make sense.”

Davis said the allowance amounts to another pay hike, less than a year after the mayor’s annual salary went up by 12.6 per cent and councillor pay rates rose by 19 per cent following several years of no raises.

“You can call it what you want,” Davis said. “A car allowance, a travel allowance, it’s a raise.”

Richter and Davis also called on council to hire an outside tax expert to review the decision to implement a travel allowance when council members already get a third of their income tax-free to help cover expenses.

“My concern is, are we seen to be double-dipping if we do both?” Richter said.

The proposal to have the allowance reviewed by an outside expert failed on a tie vote, with Richter, Davis, Sparrow and Fox in favour, while Mayor Froese and Councillors Dornan, Ferguson, and Ward were opposed. Councillor Bob Long was absent.

The vote on eliminating the allowance wasn’t as close, with Mayor Froese and Councillors Dornan, Ferguson, Fox, Sparrow and Ward voting no, while only Richter and Davis were in favour.

Ward said the allowance was recommended by an independent task force set up to find a fair way of compensating Township councillors.

“If they say that we should (have a travel allowance), then I’m going to take their advice and carry on,” Ward said.

Ward complained that Richter was trying to “throw council under the bus” by resurrecting the compensation debate.

Councillor Ferguson said Township residents shouldn’t think their council is excessively well-paid compared to other municipal councils.

“We aren’t the highest paid folks,” Ferguson said. “We are about in the middle of the pack.”

The issue will be raised again at the next meeting of council.

Richter served notice she will call on council to agree that members should receive either the travel allowance or the tax-free expense allowance, but not both.

A Revenue Canada interpretation bulletin issued in 1976 (IT-292) states elected municipal officials can avoid paying taxes on up to a third of their annual salary by declaring it to be an “expense allowance” which includes “mileage or other traveling allowance.”

The $340 a month travel allowance adds $4,080 to a councilor’s annual salary of $42,936, an increase of 9.5 per cent.

The mayor’s proposed travel allowance would have added $10,200 on top of his salary of $105,456, an increase of 9.7 per cent.

A staff memo to council notes the travel allowance is a taxable benefit that will be reported on a councillor’s T4.

Councillors will get no salary increase as such this year, after voting to scale back the increases recommended by the task force.

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