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Niagara Falls
Tuesday, May 21, 2024
Editorial: A fairer wage for town councillors
Municipal politicians deal with more issues day in and day out that directly affect each and every one of us than those elected to senior levels of government, writes managing editor Kevin MacLean. RICHARD HARLEY/FILE PHOTO

With the reading workload, complex issues, the stress of long hours at endless meetings (and the anger sometimes from upset constituents), who would do it for $16,000 or even $20,000 a year?

Yes, it’s important to give back to the community or stand for the job because you feel you have something to contribute. But in this modern age, constituents also expect professionalism and engagement from their civic leaders.

There just seems to be a reluctance to pay for it.

The reality is that municipal politicians deal with more issues day in and day out that directly affect each and every one of us than those elected to senior levels of government.

There, the jobs and accompanying status hold much more cachet, but the influence and independence or influence that individual MPs or MPPs have is minimal thanks to the party system. There are no party whips at the town council level.

And higher up the ladder, the compensation (and pensions!) are substantially enhanced.

At the municipal level, it really is grassroots politics, but frankly it often feels like those who set our tax rate, fix our potholes and debate development applications are given little respect. Voter turnout at civic elections is usually the lowest of all levels of government.

Being the lowest tier of elected office (perhaps second only to school trustee or hydro commissioner, in jurisdictions where that is an elected post), town councillors are also among the lowest-paid.

And whenever they have the gall to suggest they should be paid more, there are some who readily call them out or denigrate the desire to be compensated just a wee bit more.

Not fairly compensated, mind you, because that could mean annual salaries of $40,000 or $50,000 or a lot more.

That’s why, in principle, we don’t object to Niagara-on-the-Lake councillors voting to increase their stipend to $20,000 a year — from just over $16,000.

They still earn far less than Ontario’s hourly minimum wage and say what you will about “they knew what the pay was when they ran for office,” if we want good people who are dedicated to helping their community, we should pay them fairly.

However, the town should adopt and follow a more formal and less ad hoc way of assessing and determining future salary increases for councillors.

There are many ways this can be done and the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake would be wise to look into what some other jurisdictions do.

Perhaps there should be a committee of residents tasked with examining the salaries paid in other municipalities and making recommendations accordingly. (Though if the entire small-town sector is already underpaid, that might not be a productive or fair way of assessing salary increments.)

Or council could review compensation in the third year of its mandate and pass increases that take effect when the new council is elected. That way councillors are not necessarily directly increasing their own pay packet.

Or perhaps set a predetermined wage increment plan to hike salaries by a prescribed percentage over a certain number of years to try to boost NOTL councillors’ pay to a more respectable level — perhaps eventually reaching $30,000 a year.

Or some combination of these or better ideas.

We don’t know what the ultimate answer or amount is. But a few years ago NOTL councillors were earning around $14,000, an embarrassingly low stipend. Now they are up to $20,000, a bit more realistic wage.

To those who say “our taxes are already high” — well, that’s true. But the $30,000 this increase will cost the town treasury is a drop in the proverbial bucket of a multi-million-dollar budget.

There are plenty of other areas in which savings can be found. Let’s have some dedicated and decently compensated councillors capable of making those tough choices, if and when necessary.

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