Meeting pay fuels debate

Coun. Scott Anderson has expressed concerns about paying council members for committee meetings.

Differences of opinion have flared over compensation for Vernon council members.

Coun. Scott Anderson used Thursday’s 2015 budget session to express concerns about paying council members for committee meetings.

“I’m not going to be taking any and there are volunteers who show up and have expenses who don’t receive it,” he said, adding that he would like meeting pay scrapped.

A council member can apply for $137 for attending a committee meeting (the base council salary covers regular council meetings and there is no compensation for community sessions).

The base salary for councillors is  $21,931 in 2015 and $67,984 for the mayor.

Coun. Brian Quiring defended meeting pay, saying it may help soften the financial blow some individuals face if they get into public office.

“There are people who incur costs to go to a meeting. They have to hire someone to fill in for them (at their job),” he said.

“We want to encourage young people to be here.”

Coun. Juliette Cunningham says she collects committee meeting pay occasionally because she needs to hire replacement staff at her business when she is on civic duties.

Coun. Dalvir Nahal, who is the only member of council not self-employed or retired, says she won’t submit for meeting pay.

“I have to take time off (work) but that’s the choice I made,” she said of her decision to run for council.

On Thursday, the 2015 meeting pay budget was reduced from $12,557 to $6,557, largely to reflect the fact that the full amount is rarely spent.

“There aren’t many councillors who have used it in the past,” said Coun. Bob Spiers.

The remaining $6,000 has been directed to transportation, conferences and courses, bolstering the funds available to $20,235.

“This change was strongly recommended by administration to enable council members to attend conferences and meetings, such as the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference, which are of great value to the community,” said Will Pearce, chief administrative officer.

Anderson agrees that council must represent the community’s interest at conferences, but he questions how residents will react to additional funds going towards trips.

“The public perception is it sounds like a junket,” he said.