Councillor jobs ‘for the rich or retired’
|By Alex Coop - Staff Writer | November 30, 2017|
Early on during her time as an Algonquin Highlands councillor, Lisa Barry was told something that to this day frustrates her: A councillor job is for the rich or the retired.
“I was speaking to another councillor about how at the end of the month, there doesn’t seem to be any money left,” said Barry. “That’s when she said that sadly, being a councillor is for the ‘rich or retired.’ It broke my heart when she said that. I’m neither of those things, and that’s not why I got involved [in municipal politics].”
Barry, a married mother of two, is nearing the end of her second term as councillor for Ward 2, Stanhope. She also volunteers for five additional township committees. Township staff and other councillors have been incredibly flexible over the past seven years when it comes to scheduling, said Barry, and it’s one of the main reasons why she’s been able to continue working in the public sector.
“As much as I don’t agree with the notion that you have to be rich or retired, I don’t think you need to be paid a large amount,” she said. “Flexibility and accommodating the other parts of people’s lives, bridging them together, that is most important.”
Barry also runs a craft-based business and does some contract work on the side. Her parents live next door, providing a safe space for her children when she is out working.
Without this, Barry said she wouldn’t be able to be a councillor.
Councillors in Algonquin Highlands make $18,452. The mayor and deputy mayor make $27,495 and $21,996, respectively. Council benefits cost an additional $16,800 per year.
The township ranks second highest among others in the county for councillor remuneration rates. In first place is Minden Hills, where councillors make $18,465, while benefits amount to $21,840. The mayor and deputy mayor make $27,358 and $21,886, respectively.
Coun. Pam Sayne, who runs a home inspection business on the side, said without another job, she could not be a councillor.
“It does not provide a living wage,” she said about council compensation.
Dysart et al, the largest municipality in the county, recently discussed its remuneration rates during a council meeting Nov. 20. At the moment, Dysart councillors make the least, $14,843 per year. The mayor and deputy mayor make $26,244 and $17,317, respectively.
Dysart CAO Tamara Wilbee recommended a $500 increase to the mayor’s salary to “bring that role more on par with the neighbouring municipalities within the county.”
The deputy mayor would make 80 per cent of that; councillors would make 70 per cent. Wilbee’s report also included options for health benefits. Dysart is the only local municipality without a benefit plan for council.
The report suggested a personal health spending account, which would allow councillors and eligible dependants to access funds specifically for medical costs that are supported by the Canada Revenue Agency.
Council decided to defer its final decision until budget deliberations next month, but the report spurred a heated discussion.
“I don’t understand why the largest township pays its councillors the least,” said Coun. Susan Norcross, who with Coun. Dennis Casey, reviewed council remuneration rates Nov. 3 for Dysart.
The two were appointed by council to review the current rates. Coun. Nancy Wood-Roberts said the position of councillor is tailored to retired people.
“I’m quite happy where I am,” she said.
Coun. Walt McKechnie agreed.
“I don’t think we’re underpaid a lot,” he said. “I calculated it, I make about 50 to 60 bucks an hour.”
Casey credited Mayor Murray Fearrey for keeping council remuneration rates consistent and for “looking out for the taxpayers” but stressed the rates should change in some way to attract future politicians. There’s a municipal election slated for next fall.
“Our council’s future should be filled with young, energetic people with new ideas,” he said. “[Being a councillor] shouldn’t just be for retired people.”
Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt said the downloading of responsibilities to municipal councils is happening more, increasing the workload for most councillors.
“The size of the community should be irrelevant to the work you do,” she said, adding a lot of councillors do feel “tremendously” underpaid for the work they do, referring to after-hours committee meetings, volunteer work, and out-of-town conferences.
“But if all you’re going to do is go to a meeting or two, you might feel differently,” she said.
ALEX COOP is a reporter for The Highlander.