Council passes on pay increase – for now
By Chad Ingram
Published Dec. 19, 2017
It appears there will be no remuneration increase for members of Dysart et al council. At least not in the upcoming year.
Councillors’ payment has been discussed a few times by council during the past couple of months.
At an October meeting, Councillor Dennis Casey raised the issue of councillors’ compensation, noting that Dysart councillors are paid thousands of dollars less than their counterparts in Haliburton County’s other lower-tier municipalities.
In Dysart et al, which is the county’s most populated municipality, councillors are paid approximately $14,000 per year. The deputy mayor is paid approximately $17,000 and the mayor approximately $25,000.
In Algonquin Highlands, councillors receive approximately $18,500 in payment, the deputy mayor $22,000 and the mayor about $27,000. In Minden Hills, the figures are similar, with councillors paid $18,000, the deputy mayor $21,500, and the mayor approximately $27,000. In Highlands East, councillors are paid approximately $16,000 per year, the deputy mayor about $20,000, and the mayor approximately $24,000.
Casey said he thought the low compensation could negatively impact the number of people who might run for council in the future. He and Councillor Susan Norcross were tasked with reviewing compensation.
A proposal was tabled during a November meeting that would have increased the mayor’s pay by $500 a year to approximately $26,700. The deputy mayor would be paid at 80 per cent of the mayor’s salary at approximately $21,400; and councillors would be paid at 70 per cent of the mayor’s salary, at approximately $18,700.
Casey noted those percentages were based on common benchmarks of 85 per cent for deputies and 75 per cent for councillors.
Dysart et al councillors receive no health benefits, and it was recommended that health spending accounts for councillors, of up to $2,000 each per annum, be created. 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 $38,000 for the year.
After a lengthy discussion, that proposal was ultimately voted down.
A revised proposal on council remuneration came back to the table during a Dec. 18 meeting.
That revised proposal contained two options. One was that the health spending accounts be initiated for the upcoming year, with a remuneration increase phased in over two years: half this coming year, half in 2019. The second option was that the health spending accounts be activated this year, and the increase in remuneration deferred until 2019.
Casey said he’d like to see a third option, where both the creation of the health spending account and increase in remuneration would not come into effect until the next council term.
“I’m just glad this came back,” said Deputy Mayor Andrea Roberts. “I think there was an attitude to find a compromise.”
The revised proposal included comparisons with additional municipalities – including Trent Lakes, North Kawartha and the Town of Bancroft – and showed that compensation rates for Dysart et al council were by far the lowest.
“We don’t need to be paid the highest,” Roberts said. “But we also don’t need to be paid the lowest.”
Casey reiterated that his concern was about the future of the local council.
“We’re giving the next council a chance to be on par with the rest of the county, beginning in 2019,” he said. “I’m worried in three or four elections from now, there’s going to be nobody stepping up to the plate.”
Councillors were asked which option they each preferred. Norcross was the sole councillor to support Option 1, which would have seen the creation of health spending accounts, half of a pay increase initiated for the upcoming year, and half in 2019.
Roberts and councillors Nancy Wood-Roberts and Tammy Donaldson were supportive of Option 2, which would have applied the health spending accounts immediately and seen a pay increase come into effect in 2019.
Casey, Councillor Walt McKechnie and Mayor Murray Fearrey were supportive of Option 3, which would have seen everything deferred to the next council term.
Fearrey had expressed his opposition to an increase in remuneration throughout the process.
Since only one person had supported Option 1, chief administrative officer Tamara Wilbee suggested that council take that option off the table, voting between Option 2 and Option 3. Fearrey requested a recorded vote. Norcross, however, said she didn’t support either Option 2 or Option 3. “I don’t vote for any of them,” she said. “I voted for one.”
“Then it’s tied, so it’s defeated,” Fearrey said, meaning council was making no change at all.
“I just shake my head,” said Roberts, adding she was stunned at what was happening. “So, good luck to the 2019 councillors.”
She expressed dismay to her colleagues.
“I don’t understand, you wanted an increase three weeks ago, and now you just voted for nothing . . . that’s what you just did,” Roberts said.
However, following the meeting, Wilbee indicated she would likely bring another report regarding remuneration back to the council table.
“In hindsight, there were probably too many options on the table to keep the choices clear,” Wilbee wrote in an email. “Through that discussion, it seems like there is some interest in establishing something for 2019.”