Monday, April 22, 2024

Members of Council Take on a Tough Job For Little Pay

Each year around this time, the municipality releases a report which shares with the public the remuneration received by our members of council. In spite of the suggestion by some that our members of council should ‘cut their pay’ in order to reduce taxes, the reality is that you could completely wipe out all council remuneration, and you wouldn’t notice it one bit on your property tax bill.

With a total tax-supported levy of $18.5 million, the $222,289 paid to our seven members of council inclusive of taxable remuneration, expenses, and a taxable life insurance benefit, amounts to just 1.2 percent of the tax supported levy. Small town councils are often the cheapest boards of directors you will find; municipalities are corporations after all.

Though it might officially be a part-time job, a member of council puts in a lot of hours, attends a lot of meetings, and fields endless email messages and phone calls. For many members of council it amounts to a full time job, or close to it, but is it worth it for these members of council, who receive just $25,363.68 in remuneration for a regular council member?

As I like to ask each year, would you do the job for a little over $25,000 per year? I know many wouldn’t, but thankfully, some are willing.

A few years back, I included a slightly tongue in cheek job description in a mock ‘wanted ad’ in my editorial on this very topic, and I thought it might be worth dusting off and sharing once again.

Wanted:

Individuals to represent the interests of their neighbours for a term of four years.

Though technically a part-time position, carrying out the duties of the position will require 30 to 40 hours per week of your time.

Candidates should be prepared for a significant amount of reading – meeting agenda packages are typically hundreds of pages in length, however you will have five days to absorb and understand all of those hundreds of pages before each meeting.

Though you will be provided with an email account for communication with constituents, successful candidates should expect their home address, phone, mobile numbers, and personal email addresses to be spread widely throughout the community, and candidates should be expected to field angry calls from any of their communication options at all times of the day or night.

Candidates for the position should have a thick skin – you will be called many names, some of them quite nasty. You will also be accused of a range of conspiracies, and your personal integrity will be questioned at every turn.

Those successful in securing a position will be expected to attend untold numbers of community events and meetings, and no matter how boring the meeting or event, you must appear interested at all times.

Fortunately you will not have one boss, but instead you will have some 6,000 bosses; some of them have expertise in virtually everything, so you will receive regular lectures about how things should be done.

On top of your 6,000 bosses, you will also have any of your questionable decisions or other foibles reported in the local newspaper. Any mistakes or perceived mistakes that you make will be very public.

Compensation for the position is $23,700 per year, and if you are extra special and upwardly mobile, our top position offers a salary of $32,199, though for our top positions you should expect to have your character assassinated with even greater regularity.

As you can see from my cheeky job description above, in the past the mayor of the Municipality of Meaford didn’t receive much more remuneration than regular council members, however that changed a couple of years ago after recommendations were made by the Council Remuneration Committee to increase the remuneration for both the mayor and deputy mayor positions.

The committee, which was made up of three Meaford residents, an experienced forensic accountant, a past vice-president and Chief Economist with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and current Director of Forecasting with the Conference Board of Canada, and a retired CIBC District Manager. Independent residents with a wealth of experience spent five months in 2021, looking into what we were paying our members of council, and rightly determined that at the time our mayor and deputy mayor were underpaid when compared to other municipalities, while they found that the remuneration we pay to regular members of council was in line with other comparable municipalities.

The committee’s presentation to Council in November noted that, while remuneration for regular council members is in line with 17 comparator communities, Meaford’s mayoral position remuneration of $32,200 is 26 percent below the median ($43,730) of the 17 municipalities the committee used for comparison, and Meaford’s deputy mayor position pays $26,200, compared to the median of comparator communities of $29,270, nearly 11 percent below,” I reported at the time. “The committee recommended establishing firm ratios between councillor, deputy mayor, and mayoral remuneration that would see a councillor paid $25,000 per year, with the position of deputy mayor to earn 125 percent of the councillor remuneration, which would equal $30,700, and the mayoral position would be paid 185 percent of the councillor pay, which would equal $45,400.”

So the $47,000 in remuneration paid to Meaford’s mayor last year is a reflection of that correction a couple of years ago. While we often refer to the job of a municipal councillor in Meaford as being ‘part-time’, there is no question that the mayor’s position is most certainly a full time endeavour, and while $47,000 is not a lot of money by today’s standards, it is in line with what mayors are paid in similar municipalities in this province.

Thirty years ago, a young 24-year-old me ran for council in the City of Barrie, and though I placed third of six candidates in my ward, and some had expressed hope that I would take another stab at it in a few years, I knew from the campaign experience, that I was done with running for office, it just wasn’t for me. So instead I continued to immerse myself in municipal governance, and spent many years working on dozens of municipal, provincial, and federal election campaigns, before ultimately focusing my energy on writing about it.

The job of an elected member of a municipal council is not easy, and it is not well paid, but for those who are built for it, serving on council can be a rewarding (though often frustrating) experience.

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