Sunday, April 18, 2021

Would You do the Job of Councillor for What They Are Paid?

One of the most common criticisms I hear about our members of municipal council is also the most inaccurate criticism I hear – that our councillors make too much money, and they should take a pay cut before ever raising taxes.

Many think the job of a municipal councillor is an easy way to collect a paycheque, however some have an inflated idea of just how much we pay our members of council. I have heard some wild numbers over the years, and people are often shocked when they learn what our councillors are actually paid.

But before we get to what we pay our councillors, let’s first take a look at (slightly tongue in cheek, though slightly is the key word here) a job description.

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.

Would you do it? Would you take on the job of councillor and all that it entails for $23,799 per year (or roughly 15 or 16 bucks per hour)? Would you put up with large numbers of phone calls, often from folks who are angry, and who will call you some pretty nasty names?

I often wonder how many excellent candidates never put their names on a ballot simply because they aren’t willing to endure the frustrations and personal attacks for a measly $23,799 per year ($32,199 if you are mayor).

At their meeting on Monday, Council approved the establishment of a Council Remuneration Committee, which will review what we pay our councillors, ensure that it is comparable to other similar municipalities and so on. One of the considerations I would like to see this new committee explore is if $23,799 is enough of an annual salary to attract the best candidates. Is what we pay our councillors a deterrent to some potential candidates?

I don’t know the answer, but I think it should be an item for the committee to consider, as $23,799 – $32,199 per year to be a community punching bag doesn’t exactly sound appealing.

For those who suggest that it comes with the territory, and that members of council run for the position knowing that they will take regular abuse: should they have to, and does that reality deter good candidates from ever even running for a position?

The myth that we overpay our elected members of council is one that deserves to be busted. I’m not suggesting that we need to pay our members of council more than we currently do (though I think any rational person would agree that the duties of the position and time required to fulfill those duties is certainly worth more than what we do pay our councillors), but I think it is important to understand the reality, and that the notion that our members of council are being paid bloated salaries is just silly.

I frequently hear from readers, particularly around budget time, that budget cuts should begin with slashing council salaries. All seven members of Meaford’s council combined cost ratepayers a whopping $177,300, barely a single percentage point of the overall operating budget. Where else than a small town council chamber will you find seven people willing to endure the realities of serving the public for a pittance?

We might not always agree with our elected members of council, nor should we be expected to, but let’s stop suggesting that we are overpaying our councillors because it simply isn’t true.

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