Council divided on pay increase

By Chad Ingram

Published Nov. 21 2017

The issue of adjusting Dysart councillors’ compensation is proving divisive for council members.
As previously reported a discussion on the issue took place during council’s October meeting with Councillor Dennis Casey advocating a remuneration increase for councillors to bring their pay more in line with that of councillors in surrounding townships.

While the municipality has the largest population of Haliburton County’s four lower-tier municipalities at approximately 6000 its councillors have the smallest pay cheques. In Dysart et al councillors are paid approximately $14000 per year the deputy-mayor approximately $17000 and the mayor approximately $26200.

(Dysart et at council voted Monday to officially change the title of reeve to mayor and deputy-reeve to deputy-mayor meaning all four of Haliburton County’s lower-tier municipalities have now made that transition.)

In Algonquin Highlands councillors receive approximately $18500 in payment the deputy-mayor $22000 and the mayor about $27000. In Minden Hills the figures are similar with councillors paid $18000 the deputy-mayor $21500 and the mayor approximately $27000.

In Highlands East councillors are paid approximately $16000 per year the deputy-mayor about $20000 and the mayor approximately $24000.

Deputy-mayors and mayors sit on county council and are also compensated at the upper-tier level.
“Basically what we did was look at the current rates for the other municipalities” chief administrative officer Tamara Wilbee told councillors. “We didn’t go outside of the county at this time because we felt there was enough information just internally.”

At the direction of council Casey and Councillor Susan Norcross had met on Nov. 3 to review and compare the rates.

It was recommended the mayor’s pay increase by $500 a year to approximately $26700; the deputy-mayor be paid at 80 per cent of the mayor’s salary at approximately $21400; and councillors be paid at 70 per cent of the mayor’s salary at approximately $18700.

Casey noted those percentages were based on common benchmarks of 85 per cent for deputies and 75 per cent for councillors.

It was also recommended the township adopt health benefits for councillors a practice common in other municipalities.

“We’ve not had benefits here before” Norcross said.

While benefits for councillors have been explored in the past it was determined that adding Dysart et al’s seven councillors to the township’s insurance plan would cost an additional $30000 a year and was considered too cost-constrictive. The plan is also restricted to an age limit of 70.

What was recommended instead was the creation of personal health spending accounts for councillors of up to $2000 each per annum. This is a system used in some municipalities and unused medical money goes back into township coffers.

With the recommended pay increase and adoption of personal health accounts the financial impact would have amounted to an increase of nearly $38000 for the year.

It was something some members of council were uncomfortable with.

Councillor Nancy Wood-Roberts said she was fine with councillors’ compensation where it was along with a cost-of-living increase in the township’s bylaw and that she was aware of the compensation rate when she ran for council.

As he had at the October meeting Casey said the issue for him was that the municipality needed to offer more competitive compensation to be able to attract quality people to council in the future.
“I think it’s going to be tough enough as it is” Casey said adding that younger generations seems less interested in serving on local municipal councils.

He said the reason for the proposed jump was that the township had kept councillors’ pay so low for so long. He also pointed out that Dysart et al had the largest population of the county’s townships.
Like Wood-Roberts Councillor Walt McKechnie thought the current cost-of-living increases councillors receive was enough and should be the only way council’s pay is increased. McKechnie said the jump in rates would be too much for the public to stomach.

“I don’t care how you spin this the people out there the people we’re representing they’re going to say ‘you’re a bunch of schmucks’” McKechnie said.

Casey responded that a number of people he’s talked to have been astounded at the low level of Dysart et al councillors’ pay.

Deputy-mayor Andrea Robertswho was supportive of the increase acknowledged the topic was an awkward one because councillors were talking about their own payment.

“It is about fairness” she said. “I know you don’t like to look at what everyone else makes but that’s what we do for most jobs.”

“I definitely think the time has come” Robert said.

“It’s kind of reminiscent of Kathleen Wynne and the minimum wage go up 30 per cent all in one whack” said Mayor Murray Fearrey.

“I’m happy with what I’m doing. If you guys want to raise it up go for it.”

Fearrey who’s been in office more than four decades acknowledged that he was likely to blame for the municipality having the smallest councillor pay cheques in the county.

“I don’t disagree that we’re low” he said. “We’ve always been low.”

Norcross pointed to the size of the discrepancy.

“The public at large needs to understand that they [councillors in other municipalities] are $4000 and $5000 more” she said. “I don’t understand why the largest township is the less-paid.”

Norcross later said it was pretty sad that Dysart et al’s deputy-mayor makes less than councillors in other townships.

“It’s embarrassing” she said.

McKechnie asked about the possibility of phasing in an increase and Fearrey said that he could potentially support an amended proposal.
Ultimately the proposal as it had been drafted was voted down and it was recommended an amended version come back to the council table.