By Jenn Watt
Published Dec. 27, 2017
Getting a pay increase for Dysart et al councillors is more difficult than one would expect.
Last week’s council meeting included a confusing three-way poll on what to do to bring council members within striking distance of the wages their colleagues make. That vote ended in a tie, negating the entire exercise – despite the fact that none of the options on the table was to do nothing.
For years, Dysart’s policy has been austerity. Taxes in the municipality are low and with a largely senior population living on fixed incomes, keeping things status quo and predictable has been a good thing.
But unfortunately, because council has worked so hard over the years to keep costs down, it has also chosen not to pay itself nearly as much as other councils within the county.
The discrepancy is wide, particularly in the case of the deputy mayor, a position that requires a significant time commitment and attracts scrutiny beyond what councillors receive.
Dysart et al’s deputy mayor makes about $17,000 a year. Her counterparts in the other three municipalities in Haliburton County receive between $20,000 and $22,000.
The gap is a little tighter when it comes to councillors, with Dysart’s receiving about $14,000 compared to between $16,000 and $18,500 elsewhere in the county.
The mayor position is nearly on par with its counterparts at $25,000.
It has also been suggested that councillors have access to a health spending account of up to $2,000 a year, with funds going back into municipal coffers if they go unused.
Several proposals were on the table last week, distinguished mostly by when changes to compensation would happen.
While a stalemate ended up sinking the whole endeavour, it sounds as though this topic will return to the council table sooner than later.
And it should.
Bumping compensation up to levels similar to Dysart’s neighbouring municipalities would cost taxpayers an additional $38,000 a year.
It’s been argued that increasing the rates will help attract better candidates to the positions, which might be true. But what is more compelling is the issue of fairness – what is fair comparatively and what is fair for the work done.
What councillors are paid is not extravagant or excessive. Especially when it comes to the mayor and deputy mayor positions, the public asks a lot for a relatively small sum.
Municipal politicians are on-call all the time. On weekends they attend wedding anniversaries and cottage association meetings. They read hundred-page council packages and field questions from constituents and reporters. When they’re doing their job well, they’re up to date on current issues and connected to community members.
Unfortunately, Dysart councillors’ compensation has fallen behind other municipalities, putting them in the difficult position of advocating for their own wage increase.
A good solution would be for them to set a fair rate for the next council, eliminating the optics of giving themselves a raise.
If they don’t catch up now, the topic is bound to come back until local wages are brought up to the going rate.