Guelph-Eramosa councillors last week decided to give themselves a 30% pay raise and the mayor a 7% increase.
Not surprisingly, the reaction on social media ranged from anger to disgust.
To be fair, it’s an awkward situation, with politicians at all levels afforded the opportunity to decide on their own remuneration. That setup virtually guarantees that even the most modest of increases will be viewed with disdain and resentment.
But when pay increases surpass double digits, taxpayers have every right to be upset.
Of course, Guelph-Eramosa officials attempted to rationalize the increases by noting the loss of a federal benefit that had made one third of council members’ salaries exempt from tax. Compensating for that loss would have meant an 11% increase for all members of council.
But for some reason, township CAO Ian Roger recommended councillors should be gifted an additional 19% increase, even though a staff review suggested the 11% raise was sufficient to make Guelph-Eramosa councillors’ pay about average among comparator municipalities.
Of course, councillors were more than happy to endorse the recommendation for the extra 19% (the only dissenting vote was attributed to the timing of the move, not to the amount of the pay raise).
But we have seen nothing to suggest the performance of Guelph-Eramosa council over the past five months – or the preceding four years for that matter – is deserving of the highest base councillor pay of all lower-tier municipalities in the county.
Plus, the exorbitant increase will undoubtedly result in upward-pressure on council salaries elsewhere in the county. It’s a never-ending cycle.
Inexplicable Guelph-Eramosa increases aside, we remain flabbergasted that councils across Wellington County – all lower-tier councils except for Mapleton (which has yet to decide) as well as county council – voted themselves large pay increases this year to make up for the loss of the federal tax benefit.
The long-standing tax break, extended to municipalities in 1953, allowed council members to declare one third of their salaries as tax free for “expenses incurred in the discharge of the member’s duties.” It was offered as compensation for elected officials who, at the time, were not fairly compensated for expenses.
Much has changed since then.
Today councillors are more than adequately compensated for expenses, over and above their base pay. Therefore, the federal government’s removal of the benefit was not only reasonable, but also long overdue.
Yet that did little to stop persistent griping about the perceived slight from municipal councils across the county. So now local taxpayers are on the hook to make up for this outdated and undeserved federal tax break to which council members somehow feel entitled.
Imagine walking into your employer’s office and demanding a massive raise because your net pay will decrease due to the federal government’s elimination of an antiquated tax rule. That’s exactly what municipal councils have done.
And because they get to set their own salaries, unlike the rest of us in the real world, councillors were granted the pay increase no questions asked, despite already receiving generous compensation for what is largely part-time work (perhaps with the exception of the warden and some mayors).
The situation would be comical were it not so infuriating – and so unnecessarily costly for taxpayers.