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Council salaries a hot topic at Crowsnest Pass all-candidates forum

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Crowsnest Pass Chamber of Commerce hosted a virtual forum for municipal council candidates Sept. 29. It saw the discussion of mining, small business and Covid policy, but the evening also gave rise to a few unexpected questions.

Multiple accusations were thrown around claiming councillors were abusing their power and benefiting from an unfair increase in salary.

According to incumbent councillors who responded to the allegations, the questioners were not representing the facts correctly and did not have the necessary information to make such bold claims.

Blair Painter was not present for the discussion, as he was uncontested and remains mayor by acclamation.

In on the discussion were incumbent councillors Dave Filipuzzi, Glen Girhiny, Lisa Sygutek and Dean Ward, along with new contender Vicki Kubik. Tara-Lynn Fletcher was absent.

Covid-19

Candidates agreed there isn’t much council can do about the pandemic and suggested they would simply follow provincial mandates.

“Municipal council hasn’t really got involved in the politics of Covid, but we do support whatever the provincial government brings down and we do try to promote it through our website and through our media relations with people,” said Dave Filipuzzi.

“I don’t think it’s fair to say that it’s on council to do this,” added Glen Girhiny.

“Every person that’s looking at this has a choice and it goes way beyond just one little thing,” he said. “Stay safe, be smart and let’s try and get through this.”

Concerns about council operations

A resident anonymously commented on the increase in council members’ salaries, questioning whether this was fair with the rising level of debt the community has accrued.

The commenter claimed that between 2014 and 2020, the mayor’s salary increased by almost 100 per cent and council salaries increased by 120 to 170 per cent, while municipal debt increased by 900 per cent in the same time frame.

The resident said these numbers were obtained from the municipality’s audited financial statements.

Dean Ward, who has been councillor for multiple terms, said that these numbers were not correct and that the person asking the question did not have the full picture.

“In 2014, we made an average of $11,600,” he said. “At that point in time, I went out and surveyed every municipality in southern Alberta. We were the lowest-paid by a country mile.”

“In 2020, we made an average of $19,593,” he continued. “That’s a 69 per cent increase, so the questioner should go back and check his calculator.”

As for debt, he acknowledged that the municipality is $6 million in debt, but said there has been over $60 million worth of accomplishments since 2014 — something he’s proud of.

Incumbent Lisa Sygutek said council was deserving of the raise.

“This question really annoys me,” she said. “I’m doing 20 hours a week, I’m reading agendas, I’m taking questions, I’m attending meetings, I’m going to conferences. I’m doing everything I can to help this community move forwards. I’m missing time with my kids. I’m missing time at work. I’m not doing this because I’m doing it for a financial gain.”

Another question claimed council was abusing its power and complained about a top-heavy structure of governance where more managers are employed than workers.

Filipuzzi responded that council has mechanisms in place to deal with an abuse of power.

“I think if this council, or any other council in any other community, had reason to believe there was an abuse of power that they would deal with it in an appropriate manner,” he said.

“Lines of communication are there,” added Glen Girhiny. “They’re open. There’s nothing being hidden.”

Sygutek said the municipality is top-heavy compared to surrounding communities because of a legitimate need for more management.

She pointed out that Crowsnest Pass has a larger population than Pincher Creek and more land and infrastructure to maintain.

Pincher Creek, she added, has fewer workers within its municipality, with 69 employees compared to 220 in Crowsnest Pass. She said the ratio of employees to managers works out to about the same between the communities when the difference in size is factored in, with one manager for every 10 employees in Pincher Creek and one for every 20 in Crowsnest Pass.

Council transparency

Marlene Anctil, a current councillor who has chosen not to seek re-election, directed a question to Vicki Kubik about her involvement with the Ratepayers Association, a group known to request total council transparency. She asked Kubik what her views were on in-camera sessions pertaining to legal, labour and land issues.

Kubik said she’s a member of the Taxpayers Association of the Crowsnest Pass, not the Ratepayers Association, but added that she understands the need for some sessions to remain confidential.

“As a registered nurse, confidentiality is of the utmost importance and is just an underlying tenet of all of my interactions,” she said.

More information

Candidate profiles were published in the Oct. 6 issue of Shootin’ the Breeze and can be viewed online at bit.ly/3FEkhnO. The forum recording isn’t available but additional questions asked of candidates can be viewed at bit.ly/2X0h1lj.

Election day is Monday, Oct. 18.

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