An attempt to hit the brakes on a recommendation by the District’s finance committee to increase the compensation of District councillors by 27 per cent over the next four years of the new term of council was defeated at District’s February 22 council meeting.
The motion will bring District council pay up to the 45th percentile when compared to councillor salaries in Simcoe, Niagara, Peterborough, Wellington, and Oxford.
The recommendation also calls for an increase of $2,000 per year for the chairs of the upper-tier municipality’s four standing committees, as well as an annual increase of $2,400 for the District chair (salaries between years 1-4 of $100,730, $103,130, $105,530, and $107,930) and an annual increase for the deputy chair of $3,518 (with salaries between years 1-4 of $25,808, $29,326, $32,844, and $36,362).
“How can we justify a substantial increase for ourselves when there are so many in need?” questioned Councillor Don Smith. “How do we justify an increase of this magnitude when homelessness remains an issue? When many are still struggling to recover from the impacts of COVID on their lives and their businesses, and when the waiting list for public housing in Muskoka is anticipated to jump by 20 to 25 per cent in the next two years?
“And very importantly, how can we negotiate in good faith with our employees if we approve an increase that is far greater than [what]they have been receiving?” added Smith. “At a time when we need to show leadership and restraint, the original motion does not.”
Smith put an amended motion on the floor, seconded by Councillor Karin Terziano, which would instead have seen inflationary annual increases in tune with those received by managers and non-union staff at the District.
The new recommendation would’ve also added $1,000 to the base pay of District committee chairs and increased the salary of the deputy chair by $10,739.
Terziano, who sits on the finance committee, said that while she supported the initial recommendation because it was the lesser amount of the other options presented, the option to increase council wages by the cost of living was not as thoroughly discussed.
“I’ve certainly since realized that there was an Option 4 and that was the cost of living and we didn’t probably discuss that as much as we should have and I don’t think in any of my years on council, at any level, I really ever supported much more than a cost-of-living increase for employees at the municipal level or at the District level,” she said, adding that she would not be supporting that recommendation. “As Councillor Smith said, it’s about a 27 per cent increase over a term of council. I don’t think we would do that for our staff, and I certainly can’t support doing it for council.”
Councillor Phil Harding, on the other hand, defended committee’s recommendation. “The reality is we’re actually voting in this for the next term of council, and I think it is appropriate to have a look at what is out there in a comparator group,” he countered. “I don’t believe there is a person on this Zoom call that has ever had a constituent say that you’re overpaid for the work you do, or they’ll use the word the ‘abuse’ at times we take because our phone rings 24 hours a day. Our emails come in at whatever the hot topic is. We are required to understand and make best decisions based on all of our constituents… We’re still being responsible in my perspective but saying we are not duly compensated…”
Councillor Frank Jaglowitz said he was in favour of supporting the new motion limiting council increases to inflation but said he wanted to see additional funds for the work of committee chairs and the deputy chair, which the new resolution would have included.
Discussions also took place about whether comparing councillor salaries to staff salaries, or whether comparator municipalities used to compare how other councillors are paid in other regions, was appropriate.
Councillor Peter Cooper said he thinks councillors should be fairly compensated for the work they do. He said he did not consider his role as District councillor as a part-time position. “It takes a lot of hours, and I don’t know about the rest of the council but it isn’t part-time. It’s almost a volunteer job and as far as percentages are concerned, I’d like to point out that we’re starting at a relatively low number. And so if we’re making comparisons to staff, our salary, shall we say, is relatively low so if you have a five or six per cent increase on a very low number, it’s not all that substantial,” he said, adding that fair compensation is necessary to attract quality candidates to the table. He also said there are many costs associated with doing the work and noted the large area he covers. “In my case, it’s rather expensive because a lot of it is on the water. Boats are pretty inefficient so I would just like to point out that I don’t get paid for that, I do it because I want to help my area and I think there are a lot of costs associated with conducting this work.”
Councillor Mark Quemby, an alternate for Councillor Graydon Smith who was absent from the meeting, said councillor salaries are a very small part of the overall District budget. “I do feel that you will attract better candidates with a higher salary and I’m hoping those better candidates can do a good job with the budget, in the different fields they have knowledge in, to reduce the amount of money that’s being spent by a much larger scale on the District budget as a whole…”
Quemby also said he thinks the cost of inflation locally is much higher than the cost of inflation that is being recorded provincially or nationally. “I am in favour of councillors earning a good salary and it’s one of the reasons I’ve never run for a District position. It’s not worth my time, no offence, I’m not trying to offend anyone, but my business keeps me so busy that I can’t… afford the time off from my business to put the time into District council,” he said, adding that he applauds those who do… “If I was compensated more I’d certainly give it more consideration…”
“How many of our staff are making $23,000 a year?” asked Councillor Allen Edwards.
Perhaps part-time employees, responded staff.
“So in other words we’re underpaid,” said Edwards. “You know, I answer a phone 24-7 and… I get calls on Saturdays and Sundays.” Edwards added that he’s told all the time, “you guys aren’t paid enough for what you have to take.”
Edwards said if people think the increase is too much “they can vote us out… I don’t think we should be ashamed of saying, hey, the next council – and I might not even run – but the next council should be paid… accordingly.”
Councillor Bob Lacroix said many of the issues that were being raised at council were the same issues that were raised at the committee level. “All I’m going to say is that you know I’m on that committee. We had a lot of the same questions that are coming up today that are raised by Councillor Smith.” In fact, he said, they had so many questions that the issue was discussed at two committee meetings. “I will say that it is hard when you’re comparing apples to oranges. Nobody is the same, whether you’re in Muskoka, Simcoe, Toronto, everybody’s different. It’s hard to compare but there’s no other way to make it fair for everybody, but to compare to other councillors.”
Lacroix said he thought the recommendation from the finance committee was fair. “It’s only in the 45 percentile, it was nowhere near the top of the list which were [compared]with bigger areas,” he said, adding that he would be supporting the original motion, the same one he supported at committee.
Councillor Heidi Lorenz reminded councillors that they’re also being paid by the lower-tier municipalities they represent. “Nobody is mentioning that we’re getting paid $23/$24,000 at the township level, so we’re making, you know, $45/$46,000 a year which… is a lot of money compared to a lot of people who you represent…,” she told her fellow councillors.
Councillor Rick Maloney said he understood the position of those for and against the original recommendation, although he expressed concern with “the gap getting wider and wider and wider and at some point then there is this recommendation for a major significant increase.”
Councillor Brian Thompson also noted that councillors put in a lot of time. He said the cost of living would work only when councillors get caught up. “But at this point, I think it’s imperative that we follow the comparative issue which staff goes through a great deal of difficulty and time to come up with… and as a result of that I think if we all sit back and look at how many hours we actually do put in, I think we’d probably be a little bit surprised.”
The amended resolution moved by Smith and seconded by Terziano was put before council and Councillor Lorenz asked for a recorded vote. Six councillors voted in favour of keeping increases at the rate of inflation: Smith, Terziano, Lorenz, Jaglowitz, Tim Withey, and Nancy Alcock.
Everyone else voted in favour of the initial resolution which would amount to about a 27 per cent increase to councillor salaries over the next four years of the new term of council, along with other increases to standing committee chairs as well as the District and deputy chair of Muskoka.
Councillor Paul Wiancko was absent from the meeting.
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