• Jim Mosher

Methinks they doth protest too much

Veteran members of municipal councils and school boards should thank their lucky stars that they’ve received annual tax breaks from Canadian taxpayers for every year they served in office.

They should not now be whining about losing their generous one-third tax exemption on indemnities. The exemption applies to the elected officials’ indemnity income only. Elected officials are still exempted from being taxed on expense payments made to them while doing council- and board-approved work on behalf of a municipality or school division.

The move to eliminate the tax exemption on indemnities was first mentioned in federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s 2017 budget. Despite persistent lobbying by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which represents most of the country’s municipal councils, changes to the Federal Income Tax Act last year formalized the elimination of the exemption, which took effect Jan. 1.

What are elected officials to do? Pay more tax? Psshaw. Instead, they leave it to their already beleaguered taxpayers to foot the bill.

To be clear, not all elected bodies are going to the trough to get compensated for the loss of a introduced many years ago.

There’s at least one case where an elected body simply said ‘Okay. We’ll bite the bullet.’

The Evergreen School Division board of trustees steered clear of bumping its indemnity, particularly at a time when education funding is decreasing and property owners are all-too burdened by taxes and the general increases in the cost of living.

It seems, however, that the preponderant position by members of many elected bodies is that they cannot afford to lose their entitlements. They’re entitled to their entitlements, after all.

Playing in the role of the norm rather than the exception, Winnipeg Beach council unanimously passed first reading of an indemnity bylaw that bumps up their gross take home by $1,200 a year. It will be presented for second then final reading Feb 13.

If this bylaw is passed, the annual indemnity will increase 8.68% for the mayor, 10.67% for the deputy mayor and 11.34% for the remaining councillors.

It should noted that the percentage increases are in the low range when compared to other municipalities.

The accepted argument has always been that, in order to attract the best and brightest, there must be fair pay and compensation for the work. Thing is, elected office at the grassroots is not about a job, minimum wages and the like.

People seek elected office to help grow their community; to serve the common good; and give meaning to the democratic concept of contribution.

An old friend of mine, a teacher, served as a school trustee in the 1960s. In those early days, local school districts could barely afford teachers, never mind pay elected officials. Later, there would be money or some form of compensation for gas and the like. Soon enough, it became a commonplace that indemnities were introduced to ‘indemnify’ people for their largely volunteer work. Those indemnities have only grown.

Winnipeg Beach taxpayers can but hope that their elected representatives will step back, and defeat the indemnities bylaw at second reading.

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