City councillors deserve raises, but 22 per cent?
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, email@example.com
overheard on the island