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Councillor: Payment rules still current

2015 remuneration released in recent report

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

The way Oshawa city councillors are paid could soon be under review for the first time in more than a decade.

When speaking to The Oshawa Express regarding the recently released report that details the salaries and other expenses paid to Oshawa councillors for 2015, Mayor John Henry was asked whether he thought the bylaw, established in 2005, needed to be reviewed.

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

The bylaw, created largely in part by a council compensation review conducted by Aon Consulting in 2005, has only seen minor tweaks since that time, mainly in 2011 when 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 substantially.

Only Councillors Nester Pidwerbecki and John Neal were on council at the time the current bylaw was made in 2005. The year following the passage of the new bylaw, Neal and Pidwerbecki’s total remuneration from the city was $38,636 and $35,742 respetcively. Last year, Councillor Neal’s total remuneration was $57,082 while Pidwerbecki’s was $56,018.

This equates to an approximately 47 per cent increase in wages for Neal and a 57 per cent increase for Pidwerbecki over a 10-year period. Increases in 2015 can be attributed to Neal’s vice-chairmanship of the community services committee and Pidwerbecki’s appointment as deputy mayor and vice-chair of the development services committee.

Looking at the recent remuneration for other members of council, several can be seen to be on track for a similar increase over the same 10-year period. However, changes to a chair or vice-chair positions can make pinpointing a trend difficult.

While mayor Henry chooses to be exempt from the $5,200 car allowance, his remuneration increased four per cent over 2014 levels from $94,761 to $98,930.

Councillor John Aker saw a similar increase of nearly five per cent to his remuneration from $54,724 in 2014 to $57,695 and the same went for councillor Amy McQuaid-England and Neal, who both saw five per cent increases.

In comparison, the average cost of living salary increase for Canadian citizens in 2015 was approximately 2.5 per cent, according to numbers from human resources firm Morneau Shepell.

Councillor Bob Chapman saw a small $299 increase to his total remuneration while Councillor Nancy Diamond actually saw a decrease over 2014 levels from $56,203 to $54,213.

On top of city council remuneration, regional councillors also received a base remuneration of $53,264.12 from the Region of Durham, who also have similar stipends for chairs of committees.

Councillor Diamond says the bylaw, while 11 years old, is still fair to councillors and different amounts of work they handle for different positions.

“The bylaw is balanced in terms of workload, there’s the extra workload for different positions and you can see that in the numbers,” she says.

She explains that the amount of work councillors do now is much more than it was in previous years, noting that it would be hard for people to hold down a full-time job, unless self-employed, and be a successful councillor, as was the case years ago.

“You’re here virtually fulltime,” she says. “People need to be able to cover their time for that.”

As far as the bylaw goes, she does not see any changes coming in the near future.

“I don’t see any chance (of changing) it, I don’t foresee any change and I personally would not recommend any change.”

While Diamond was not a member of the 2005 council that approved the new bylaw or the associated report and recommendations that it was derived from, it was recommended that a compensation review be undertaken every three years. This is something that has not happened.

Councillor Amy McQuaid-England says that perhaps now is the time for it.

“Since it’s been 10 years, I see no reason why not to do a review,” she says.

For Henry, there are aspects of the bylaw that he says should be addressed more than others.

“There is some challenges with the bylaw,” he says. “I’ve addressed that with staff over the last little while.”

In particular, Henry pointed The Express to section 5.07 that 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, having the former councillor pay only five percent up until they turn 65.

Henry would not comment further.

“I’m not really able to comment on that,” he said. “You’ll be shocked.”

Outside of that, Henry said a review is always a good step

“It think it’s always good to look and review and compare to other municipalities,” he said.