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Niagara Falls
Tuesday, May 21, 2024
NOTL councillors vote to raise annual salary to $20,000
At the suggestion of Coun. Wendy Cheropita, NOTL councillors have voted themselves a raise of about $4,000 a year. That brings their annual compensation to $20,000. Based on working about 30 hours a week on town business, they will earn less than $13 an hour. FILE

Coun. Wendy Cheropita is unhappy with how much Niagara-on-the-Lake councillors are earning and she has persuaded her colleagues to boost their annual stipend.

NOTL councillors have been among the lowest paid in Niagara Region, with a salary of $16,208 annually, Cheropita told council last week.

She convinced colleagues to vote in favour of hiking their pay to $20,000, a raise that will cost the town about $30,000 a year. 

The motion was approved by council after some debate.

Voting in favour were Couns. Tim Balasiuk, Gary Burroughs, Maria Mavridis, Sandra O’Connor,  Erwin Wiens and Cheropita, while Couns. Adriana Vizzari and Nick Ruller voted against it. Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa didn’t cast a vote.

Ruller was concerned that council salaries were already decided as part of a market review during budget discussions. 

However, clerk Grant Bivol confirmed that was not the case.

Ruller continued to voice his concerns, adding that he would “rather see this coming from someone that is removed from council.”

“I think we’re opening ourselves up to criticism here because if there is an inaccuracy we leave ourselves a little bit vulnerable to that,” he said. 

Burroughs agreed, saying, “It does appear more objective if it comes from a staff report.”

Cheropita said that the additional $30,000 it will take to increase salaries can be accommodated without a tax increase.

Town finance director and treasurer Kyle Freeborn added that some of the projections in the year’s operating budget were “conservative,” meaning there could be room to handle the increase.

“We are expecting higher investment income and I believe it would cover off that cost,” he said, adding that a surplus would carry over into the 2025 budget. 

During her presentation, Cheropita included a table that showed regional councillors are paid the highest salaries at more than $40,000 a year, followed by Niagara Falls at about $38,000 and West Lincoln where each member earns $30,000 annually. 

The hike means NOTL and Port Colborne councillors will be the fourth lowest-paid in the region, above only Wainfleet, Thorold and Pelham.

With the increase to $20,000 per year, NOTL councillors will earn about $384 a week. With meetings, preparation and town business, some councillors say they work up to 30 hours weekly.

At the new pay rate, 30 hours a week works out to about $12.80 an hour. Ontario’s minimum wage is $16.55 per hour and is due to rise 3.9 per cent, to $17.20 hourly in October.

Burroughs told The Lake Report that he works roughly 25 to 30 hours on council-related business weekly.

“I’m on a couple of committees and they’re not that much, probably four or five hours a week for actual council and committees of council, I’m chairing. I’ve got one more month to go. I would say I spend roughly 15 to 20 hours a week on that,” he said.

Burroughs added that while he sees no reason why Cheropita’s report would be incorrect, he did express some concerns.

“I’ve been around for quite a while and typically we don’t do those kinds of motions. We request them to be done and reported back (to council),” he said. 

Coun. Sandra O’Connor reported a similar workload to Burroughs, noting it changes from week to week.

“For instance, in August we don’t have any — at least any formal council meetings, but there are other things going on,” she said. 

Last week O’Connor said, among other town commitments, she attended a flag raising, a meeting with Walker Industries and Tuesday’s council meeting — plus preparation time, committee meetings and events.

She estimated that all amounted to roughly 30 hours. 

She said she can appreciate where other councillors were coming from regarding the pay raise.

“We’re still in the bottom portion, which is fair. I’m not advocating for any big raises. I’m not doing (the job) for the money.” 

Zalepa shared a similar sentiment to O’Connor, saying the increase doesn’t make a large difference — but money isn’t the first thing on councillors’ minds.

“There’s no doubt in my mind — with my experience and the people that I’ve come across over the years, they’re doing this for a love of their community and they want to give back,” he said.

Wiens said the work he does as deputy mayor totals closer to 40 hours per week, but he doesn’t mind.

“I supported it. I believe it still makes us the least-paid or second-least paid in the region,” he said.

“It’s still essentially a lower pay, at $12 an hour you aren’t doing it for the money.”

 

 

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