Council remuneration increase widely rejected by Committee of the Whole

(Gazette file photo)

SARAH WILLIAMS

STAFF WRITER

Prince Edward County Council will not receive a pay increase after some deliberation during the Thursday, June 23rd Committee of the Whole Meeting.

During that meeting, Councillor Kate MacNaughton put forward a motion to increase council remuneration to $35,000, an amount to be included in the 2023 Operating Budget. However, after several councillors opposed the increase, it was decided any adjustments to remuneration will be the responsibility of the next term of council.

The next term of council begins in December 2022.

Councillor Kate MacNaughton. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

MacNaughton justified her motion by highlighting the modest pay received by council as a barrier to many who might otherwise run for the position.

“I see this as a bit of a democratic emergency,” she said. “With the organization I’m working with, Represent, my area of focus has been primarily-though not entirely- women, young people, working people, people with families… it’s become very apparent there is a barrier to entry for anyone that doesn’t have some source of wealth, some source of consistent income or a supportive employment situation.”

Pointing to comparable municipalities, MacNaughton noted the pay rate for local councillors falls behind.

Referring to Norfolk and Brant Counties, she pointed out their take home pay is significantly more and that the lowest pay for comparable municipalities is only $35,000.

“If we look at Haldimand County, which is a decent comparator, they get $56,000 for the exact same job,” said MacNaughton.

Delving into the crux of the issue, MacNaughton expressed her belief that without broader access to positions on council, the local government lacks true democratic representation.

“If we cannot open the doors for a broader group, we don’t really have a government that’s representational,” she argued. “We have a bit of a ruling class that excludes a lot of people affected by our decisions, including renters, those who work for an hourly wage etc.”

Councillor Jamie Forrester was the first of several councillors to zero in on MacNaughton’s assertion that the current spate of councillors is not truly representational.

“This is a little disappointing in a lot of ways. I would not like to be discounted because of my age, my colour, or my background. I think there’s a lot of people who come into this position to give back to the community that’s given them so much over the years,” said Forrester. “These days, it seems that is not good enough. It’s been a privilege for me to serve my community, to work hard everyday and try to help people. The last thing I would like to see is for us to have professional councillors. We already see this at the federal and provincial level and I sure don’t want to see it at the municipal level.”

Forrester added that the position of councillor should be decided upon not based on age or race, but on being qualified for the position, as decided by the public.

Councillor Janice Maynard, though not supportive of the motion in its entirety, did support MacNaughton’s findings that lack of pay has proven to be a barrier for some wanting to run for council.

“This is quite a different job than I started 12 years ago. When I had a young, teenage daughter and was working full time, I could manage…just barely,” explained Maynard. “But, the complexity of what we do now is much greater. When I try to help people that I think might be able to step into this role-because none of us can do it forever-the idea of the compensation is a factor, especially for women that have many other commitments and are also working. I’m surprised we didn’t see at the end of this term of council a review of councillor’s pay. That would have been typical.”

Maynard added that, while she didn’t think she could support an increase to $35,000, she did believe in a reasonable increase.

Athol Councillor Jamie Forrester. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

“This is pretty close to being a full-time job and, I think, to attract diverse, good candidates maybe we do have to consider paying a little more,” added Maynard.

Speaking to comments from fellow councillors, MacNaughton was adamant she did not intend to disparage any current councillors.

“I know all of you to be here for the right reasons. I am not questioning your decency or commitment to this community, nor am I saying you shouldn’t run because of your demographic. I am saying there are currently people who are prohibited from running,” she stated.

In his own experience speaking to potential council recruits, Mayor Steve Ferguson noted the biggest concerns he has heard people voice are those surrounding criticism and scrutiny.

“Like everyone, I have been asking people if they were interested in running for a position on council and, more often than not, the comment I get back concerns the criticism and scrutiny we’re under,” said Ferguson. “This motion has started to elicit a lot of commentary from the public already.”

Ferguson also argued that, without a staff report and supporting data, it would be inappropriate to pass MacNaughton’s motion.

“Why should any of us agree to what is in front of us? We have no staff report dealing with this issue. The salary compensation, inclusive of the mayor’s is at a certain percentage of the budget, how does that compare to other locations? Who are the comparators? We have no data about their process so it would be wholly inappropriate and irresponsible to approve this without fulsome data,” he stated.