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Cost is too high to review earnings, councillors say

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

A review of the way in which councillors make their money, and potentially how much, was punted aside by city council because it was simply too expensive.

Recommended by staff, councillors were considering a $50,000 bill to hire a consultant to review their aging remuneration bylaw, which dictates not only the amount of money councillors are compensated for their work, but also any allowances, mileage and expenses, and retirement packages. The bylaw has not had a comprehensive review since 2005.

For that reason, staff put forward the recommendation to have someone come in to take a look at things ahead of the next term of council.

“It is appropriate and timely to undertake an independent, arms-length review of council compensation for application to the 2018-2022 term of council,” staff wrote in their motion. It was previously approved by council that the bylaw related to city governance be reviewed “generally” within the last two years of a council term.

However, the idea was quickly shot down by Councillor John Aker at both the committee and council levels.

“I have not heard one councillor suggesting changing the remuneration,” Aker says. “I do not believe this council is going to spend $50,000 to review our salaries.”

The unwillingness was not shared by all members of council though, as Councillor Amy McQuaid-England suggested that the dated bylaw may be out of step with current policy, particularly when it comes to the issue of pregnancy and maternity leave. Currently, the bylaw makes no mention of how councillors are compensated for, or how maternity leave is handled during a term of council.

The councillor noted that she understood the political reasons and the optics of reviewing councillor salaries during an election year, calling it a “political time bomb.” Yet, she still urged council to move ahead with the review.

“I think it is a misstep here,” she said. “I hope that council will consider making the decision to actually review.”

The bylaw itself was created in large part by a council compensation review conducted by Aon Consulting in 2005. Since that time, it has only seen minor tweaks, mainly in 2011, when Mayor John Henry removed expenses from his mayor’s remuneration upon taking office.

The compensation review addressed every aspect of what councillors are paid, including base salary, supplemental stipends for chairs and vice-chairs of committees, benefits, and automobile allowances.

Consultants used a selection of 11 comparator municipalities similar to Oshawa in different aspects, whether it be size, governance style, council size or location in the GTA. Based on that list, they formed several recommendations for council to consider, the bulk of which formed the new remuneration bylaw.

A remuneration cap for councillors was set at $29,225 and $70,980 for the mayor, a $3,250 stipend was established for the deputy mayor and committee chairs, along with $1,625 for vice-chairs. A $100-a-week car allowance is also set for all members of council.

Annual increases to council remuneration (including stipends) are linked to any increases in pay dictated in the collective agreements with CUPE Local 250 and 251, the unions representing city staffers, and over the last 10 years, the numbers have been growing steadily.

In 2015, following the release of the summary of councillor remuneration, The Oshawa Express asked Mayor John Henry at the time if he would be in favour of reviewing the dated bylaw.

“It’s time to have that discussion,” Henry said at the time.

In speaking after the regular council meeting on Oct. 16, the mayor said he was still in favour of the review, but not the cost.

“There’s other ways to spend that money,” he said. “We have competent staff here in the building that can review it and know what needs to be done.”

The motion to ignore the staff recommendation carried with only Councillors McQuaid-England and John Neal opposed.