Council remuneration increase again debated by Billings council

KAGAWONG—The proposal for increasing council remuneration to members of Billings council came up again at a meeting last week with new information provided by Councillor Barb Erskine comparing the increases proposed for the township are at the least in line, or lower, than what other similar sized municipalities in Northern Ontario are paying in councillor stipends.

“I found some new information from a survey done by the Association Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) in 2017,” Councillor Erskine told council. She said that not every municipality in Ontario volunteered their own council remuneration figures, providing a list of 10 municipalities, nine of which are in Northern Ontario with populations of 700 or less (based on the 2016 census). In the chart looking at the remuneration for mayor/reeve and councillors, for the position of mayor/reeve the lowest remuneration is $1,000 and the highest is $15,430 for the mayor/reeve (Killarney); the lowest for councillors is $1,000 and the highest is $9,311 (Killarney). The average is $7,193 for mayor/reeve and $4,954 for councillors.

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“So what I had proposed previously is not out of line,” said Councillor Erskine. She pointed out there were no Manitoulin Island municipalities listed in the survey.

As reported previously, a proposal to significantly increase the remuneration paid out to members of Billings council received some support but also concerns from council members at a recent meeting.

It had been proposed by Councillor Erskine that for councillors the remuneration be increased from $1,800 per year to $3,000, and an increase from $50 to $60 for committee meetings and from $60 to $70 for council meetings. For the mayor, remuneration she had proposed this be increased from $2,300 moved to $5,000 per year. And for committee meetings, this be increased from $60 to $70 and from $70 for council meetings $80 per council meeting.

“One of the reasons I had proposed the increase was to encourage more people to come forward to run for a seat on council as part of the democratic process,” said Councillor Erskine. She also explained that if on average a member of council spends eight hours a week in council duties and meetings, “they should be provided a minimum wage ($15 per hour). I have received feedback that there is the perception that being on council is a volunteer position. I don’t see it this way, we have a high level of responsibility, and if for example something happens to our water plant and the quality of water provided to our residents, we as council are liable and can be sued.”
Councillor Sharon Alkenbrack noted, “I called Assiginack Township and councillors receive a base (stipend) of between $4,800-5,000 a year, and we would be comparable to that (under Councillor Erskine’s proposal). In the case of Assiginack, the mayor receives a base stipend of $9,000, which is significantly higher than Billings rate now or under the proposal.

“I agree with Barb that there is a perception that this is a volunteer position being on council, but it isn’t,” said Councillor Alkenbrack. “As a council we are responsible and can get sued for water issues for instance. I would recommend a compromise: I have no problem increasing the (remuneration) a little.”

However, Councillor Brian Parker said, “I have never received as many emails as I have on this issue; people were upset that we were looking at increasing (the stipends) at least 50 percent.” He pointed out volunteers on committees in the township don’t receive any stipends and members of the public are upset council is looking at increasing the stipends as much as has been proposed.

“To do this, put these increases in place, all at once, we can’t do it,” stated Councillor Nora Bath-Haring.

Councillor Erskine said by increasing the stipends it will help encourage more people from across the township to put their names forward for council.

“I have been on council for three terms, and I didn’t join for the money,” said Councillor Parker. He indicated he would like to see what the rest of the municipalities on Manitoulin are doing (in terms of providing remuneration to their council members).

Councillor Alkenbrack asked whether there is the potential for the council remunerations to increase a little bit.

“When you look at what Assiginack is paying I guess we would not be out of line,” said Mayor Hunt.

“The last time this was brought up it was suggested that council remuneration could be increased on the base level, with no extras (for attending committee meetings),” said Councillor Bath-Haring. “That idea has potential. I can see some merit in that.”

It was agreed by council that the issue will be raised again at a future meeting, once more research is carried out as to what other Island municipal councils receive in stipends.