Muskoka politicians debate higher salaries
January 22, 2014
By Jenn Watt
Township of Lake of Bays Mayor Bob Young says it’s time to think about making the municipal mayor position a full time job and paying the individual accordingly. Photograph: Corey Wilkinson
As another election year dawns, those considering a foray into politics must first understand what the job entails.
The fact is a single parent or an office worker would likely have a hard time living on a town councillor’s compensation.
Across the board in the District of Muskoka, annual salaries for most elected positions provide relatively modest compensation for what can be a stressful and time-consuming occupation.
In recent years, area councils have tried to boost salaries to better reflect the work being done, but that hasn’t always gone over well with the public.
Currently, mayors receive between $31,800 and $38,300 and councillors bring in between $16,000 and $20,000 a year.
“Normally, what councils do is they meet in their final year of term and set the remuneration for the next council so they’re not perceived as giving themselves a raise,” explains Lake of Bays Mayor Bob Young.
“I looked back and there hadn’t been a change in the councillors’ pay for Lake of Bays for 15 or more years. I said, ‘let’s bite the bullet, (and) take the nasty flak,’” he says.
In 2012, his council decided to increase salaries over two years for themselves from $14,479 to $16,091.
Young said the move was necessary because councillors were so far behind the pack. His own salary went from $34,755 to $38,317 over the same two years.
Brock University political science professor David Siegel said he’s seen the position Lake of Bays was in before.
“What happens is, a particular council will try to become martyrs, so they will go for a few years without a pay increase. Once they realize they are 10 or 15 per cent behind everyone else, they want some sort of catch-up,” Siegel says.
According to Siegel, who has been a professor at Brock for 35 years, paying council members a good salary helps attract a diversity of candidates.
“My argument usually is that people have to be paid a reasonable amount otherwise you do skew the kind of person that you get … you can only have people that are independently wealthy or retired or something like that,” he says.
Huntsville Mayor Claude Doughty agrees. At the end of January, his council will be presented with a working committee’s recommendations on salaries with the intention of voting on changes in February.
Currently, Huntsville’s mayor makes $31,819 a year and councillors make $17,270. As a mayor in Muskoka, Doughty is the lowest paid. The salary for what is often a more-than-full-time job excludes those who don’t have other income streams, he said.
“To be the mayor shouldn’t require that you be semi-retired,” he says.
“It should be a meaningful job that if people want to take on at whatever stage in their life they’re at, it should be commensurate with that.”
While there is a range in salaries between Muskoka’s municipalities, the gap is fairly minimal.
Those mayors and councillors who have positions on the District of Muskoka council receive an additional $14,500 a year, with that amount set to increase to $16,750 by 2017.
The highest paid politician in Muskoka is District Chair John Klinck, who receives $72,300, including a car allowance, and is elected by members of District council.
The District chair position is required to represent all of the municipalities in the area and is chief executive officer of the District.
Besides the District chair position, the salaries of other mayors and councillors remain modest in comparison to some municipalities in southern Ontario.
Councillors in London, for example, recently bumped their annual salaries to just over $36,000 a year. The city’s mayor makes $130,900 a year.
One of the pitfalls to increasing salaries, Siegel said, is the public isn’t always aware of what goes into serving on council.
“People who look at what councillors do figure that a council meeting lasts two hours twice a month, well that’s nothing (they think). They don’t look at the amount of time that’s spent on committee work, they don’t look at the amount of time that’s spent on constituency work. And particularly, when you’re in an area like Muskoka … it takes you a long time to go on these constituency calls (because of geographic distance),” Siegel says.
There is also the emotional toll, says Doughty.
“There are people that say things that … if you don’t have a thick skin, can be quite hurtful. When they can hide behind an email or a letter, they can be pretty hostile,” he says.
Ultimately, what the public pays for is what the public gets, says Young.
“At the moment, it’s still retirees and people with independent sources of funds (such as self-employed people),” he says.
“If you were a young person and had a family, you couldn’t live on it. You’d need another job . . . I’d like to see (payment)higher. We could attract younger people with new ideas, the vigour, that type of person.”
Those interested in running in the 2014 municipal election are now able to file their nomination papers at their area municipal offices.
The next municipal election takes place on Oct. 27, and the nomination period officially ends Sept. 12 at 2 p.m.