How much does a St. John’s city councillor make? These days it’s around $35,000.
But a recent report is recommending council vote themselves an increase.
Although the full report is not yet public, word is that it was completed by an independent consultant, and I have been told that it recommends a range of possible increases, with 4.5 per cent falling somewhere in the middle. This would bring pay for a councillor to around $38,000 a year. The Deputy-Mayor and Mayor would see their pay increase to about $50,000 and $100,000, respectively.
Sheilagh O’Leary, Councillor-At-Large, wants nothing to do with any such increase. When the issue was brought up in December, she vowed to vote against any proposed increase when it comes back up in March.
“On principle I cannot support an increase [in councillors’ pay] while we are increasing taxes,” she said.
So, let’s say the pay was increased by 4.5 per cent. Would we get 4.5 per cent more work from our councillors? Council positions are generally considered to be part-time, except for the Mayor and Deputy-Mayor, but it’s not laid out clearly.
“There is no direction saying a councillor has to spend this much time on the job,” says O’Leary.
She says each member of council is in a different situation. Some are retired, and others work part-time in addition to their council duties. She says she works more than full-time on council matters, and that the work never stops (she did this interview with me on a Saturday.)
So why not raise our expectations? Why not make all council positions full-time and pay them a wage which they could live on without needing other work? In Halifax, district councillors are full-time positions, and they bring home a tidy $72,000 a year. Wouldn’t it be worth it to have them focusing more of their attention on running the city?
Getting good value for your money is important. Unless something changes, council will have done nothing substantial to justify an increase to their pay except find a report which may have simply taken St. John’s council salaries and compared them to other cities across Canada, like Halifax. Since Halifax district councillors are full-time, this would be like comparing apples to oranges. Each individual city council is different, as is the work they do.
O’Leary says it’s a tough situation, and points out that council members are homeowners too. When taxes go up, it affects them as well. She agrees with me that the positions should be full-time, especially “considering the future prosperity, and where the city is going in the coming years.”
It doesn’t look like there will be any shortage of work out there for council in the foreseeable future, and I hope that council can give the issues they will be facing the time they require and deserve.