City coun­cil­lors de­serve raises, but 22 per cent?

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL -

Mem­bers of Char­lot­te­town City Coun­cil voted them­selves sub­stan­tial pay raises this week. The mo­tion passed 7-3 with­out de­bate dur­ing the monthly meet­ing and with lit­tle com­ment af­ter­wards. It’s a no-win sit­u­a­tion when it comes to mem­bers of gov­ern­ment – mu­nic­i­pal, pro­vin­cial or fed­eral – giv­ing them­selves pay in­creases. De­fend­ing them or op­pos­ing them just ex­ac­er­bates the is­sue and keeps de­bate go­ing longer than any­one in­volved re­ally wants.

But the sheer size of the in­creases at­tracted ex­tra at­ten­tion. They range from 12 per cent for Mayor Clifford Lee to 22 per cent for coun­cil­lors. In be­tween was the 18 per cent in­crease for the deputy mayor. Res­i­dents would have no is­sue with an­nual in­creases cov­er­ing the cost of liv­ing or in­fla­tion but these are far above those.

The in­creases are also a sur­prise con­sid­er­ing that coun­cil came within hours of rais­ing taxes in the March bud­get to pay for ex­tra snow re­moval costs from a long, harsh win­ter. Only a last-minute spe­cial grant from the province to Char­lot­te­town pre­vented that prop­erty tax in­crease.

Yet, here was coun­cil vot­ing them­selves salary in­creases that to­tal al­most $67,000 a year. If MLAs had voted them­selves com­pa­ra­ble pay raises dur­ing the re­cent sit­ting of the leg­isla­tive assem­bly, there might have been marches on the Coles Build­ing.

The end re­sult sees the mayor’s salary in­crease to $65,500 from $58,309, the deputy mayor to $35,750 from $30,369 and coun­cilors to $32,750 from $26,725. There are other perks. The re­port also gives all coun­cil mem­bers free smart­phone pack­ages and In­ter­net ac­cess, one third of their salary is tax free, and for re­tire­ment ben­e­fits, coun­cil­lors can choose to join the city's em­ployee pen­sion plan or get the same 12.25 per­cent for a self-di­rected re­tire­ment plan. Fu­ture salary in­creases take place ev­ery Jan. 1 for an amount equal to what­ever city union gets the low­est in­crease for that par­tic­u­lar year.

The raises are sup­ported in a 27-page com­pen­sa­tion re­view (plus ap­pendixes) pre­pared by N.S. con­sul­tant Peter Kelly, the for­mer mayor the Hal­i­fax Re­gional Mu­nic­i­pal­ity. It was that re­port and rec­om­mended pay raises that coun­cil ac­cepted Mon­day night.

Mr. Kelly, who has wide ex­pe­ri­ence in mu­nic­i­pal af­fairs, com­pared com­pen­sa­tion rates to other Cana­dian mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties of sim­i­lar pop­u­la­tion size. He also in­ter­viewed each mem­ber of coun­cil to get an idea of the hours he or she work per week on city busi­ness. Based on Mr. Kelly’s re­search, on av­er­age, mem­bers of coun­cil put in be­tween 25 to 30 hours per week while the mayor puts in 35 to 40 hours a week. Coun­cil­lors serve on an av­er­age of four com­mit­tees and on av­er­age do­nate $3,500 to var­i­ous char­i­ties and com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions a year.

Pro­vid­ing good gov­ern­ment for a cap­i­tal city re­quires more time with more func­tions are on the sched­ule. Char­lot­te­town is well past the era of vol­un­teers and small hon­o­rar­i­ums. Cit­i­zens should not be too crit­i­cal un­less they are pre­pared to do the same job for the same low pay.

Coun­cil du­ties and the time in­volved have greatly in­creased since amal­ga­ma­tion in 1995 and seem to get more oner­ous each year. Rea­son­able salaries must be paid if cit­i­zens ex­pect to have good peo­ple of­fer for elec­tion and have good gov­ern­ment pro­vided as the re­sult.

There are other sup­port­ing ar­gu­ments pro­vided but you get the gist of what Mr. Kelly has rec­om­mended.

This was the first for­mal re­view in over four years and coun­cil ob­vi­ously felt that cit­i­zens were get­ting a good deal for their tax dol­lars and it’s time for fair com­pen­sa­tion.

Over­all, it’s hard to ar­gue with Mr. Kelly’s rec­om­men­da­tions or ra­tio­nale for those in­creases.

The time de­mands for Mayor Lee vir­tu­ally war­rant a full­time mayor and com­men­su­rate salary.

If the city an af­ford it, and if it doesn’t mean an in­crease in taxes, and if the best peo­ple of­fer for elec­tion and we get the strong rep­re­sen­ta­tion be­cause of these salary in­creases - with­out los­ing ser­vices - then so be it.

“I love the sight of lupins grow­ing be­cause I still as­so­ciate it with the clos­ing of school.” From the col­lec­tion of Is­land au­thor David Weale, dweale@pei.sym­pa­

over­heard on the is­land

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