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Council reviewing payment rules for first time in over a decade

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

The set of rules governing councillor compensation are set to be reviewed independently for the first time in more than 10 years.

Following approval by council during its most recent meeting, the City of Oshawa is set to pull an extra $20,000 out of the Corporate Contingency fund in order to pay KPMG to review the city’s council remuneration bylaw. The bylaw governs everything from the amount councillors earn annually, their benefits along with the rules around retirement and mileage allowances.

The move, partially fuelled by a council resolution passed in 2017, authorizes the review of policies related to city governance within the last two years of a council term.

It is also influenced by required changes under legislation in Bill 68, the Modernizing Ontario’s Municipal Legislation Act approved last year.

“A review is a good thing,” says Mayor John Henry. “And the nice part about a review is it also gives the public an opportunity to speak.”

At this point, the timeline for the review remains unclear, as city clerk Andrew Brouwer says that ensuring KPMG can do the work and getting council on board was the first step.

“I know they’ve confirmed they can do the work within their audit plan,” Brouwer says of KPMG. “I think the idea was to just get the council approval for the work and then we’d have to define when and how that would occur.”

According to a staff report, the “comprehensive and integrated review” would refine the bylaw with the changes to come into effect for the 2018-2022 council term.

The current bylaw is largely the result of a council compensation review conducted by Aon Consulting in 2005. It has only seen minor tweaks since that time.

The previous 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 at the time 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.

With that said, there are some aspects of the current bylaw which Mayor Henry notes could use some modernization, and others an outright removal.

One section of the bylaw the mayor particularly dislikes relates to payment for retired members of council.

Section 5.07 of the bylaw dictates any member of council who has served more than 15 years consecutively or cumulatively on council is provided with extended health benefits, inclusive of drugs, vision-care, semi-private hospital and dental coverage, with the former councillor only paying five per cent of costs up until they turn 65.

“I’ve always disagreed with section 5.07,” the mayor says. “There’s a bunch of things that can be done to improve the bylaw and lower costs and I think it needs to be looked at and I believe particularly that section 5.07 should be eliminated.”

The review will be incorporated into KPMG’s 2018 audit plan, which also includes audits for absence management, workforce productivity data, and information, and enforcement processes along with follow-ups to previous audits in fleet management, real estate and health and safety.