County councillors approve 45 percent raise over four years

Renfrew County council, pictured at a hybrid council meeting in late 2021.

Pembroke – Renfrew County councillors are getting a 45 percent raise, increasing their remuneration from $14,283 to $20,825 with the increase being phased in over the next four years and beginning with the next term of council.

“I don’t think it is a significant jump for the budget, but it is a significant jump for our ratepayers,” noted Renfrew Reeve Peter Emon during a special meeting of council last Wednesday.

The initial proposal had been to bring in the increase next year (2023) from $14,283 to $19,853 and factor in two percent cost of living increases annually for the next three years. However, Reeve Emon suggested staggering in the increase instead, the same way MPAC property assessment increases are staggered in over four years. It was his proposal which was later accepted, although the higher amount of $20,825 was listed as the figure to aim for.

The discussion on the remuneration package was preceded by a report from the Gallagher Group which did an elected officials market review comparing the remuneration county councillors receive to other comparators in the Eastern Ontario and the province with municipalities of a similar size.

Warden Debbie Robinson began the presentation noting it was established many years ago for a review of remuneration to be conducted at the end of the council term, so the new figures are for incoming council and not necessarily the same people voting for the increase.

 “I do not know any council member who likes to talk about how much we should or should not be compensated,” she said. “It is often an uncomfortable conversation.”

In presenting the review, Jane Mizansky of the Gallagher Group said the review is done to ensure compensation is reflective of the roles and responsibilities of council and recognizes the commitment of members. The remuneration framework should also be financially sustainable and reasonable given current practices for municipal council remuneration across the province, she noted.

In her presentation she focused on the remuneration for council. She pointed out the remuneration for the warden is already at the higher end with the comparators.

“The county warden is above the median/middle across all comparator groupings,” she said.

The County of Renfrew warden received $65,224 and the median comparator is $51,387. The median in Eastern Ontario is $51,387.

“The councillor base pay is closer to the lower end of the group,” she noted.

County of Renfrew councillors were receiving $14,283 and the median was $20,825. The median for Eastern Ontario is $20,158.

She pointed out the health, dental and insurance package for county councillors in Renfrew is quite a bit better than in other counties.

“It is not often you see health and dental offered at the county level,” she added.

In reviewing her recommendations, she said there was the option of keeping the status quo or increasing the councillors to the median of $20,825 and maintain the per diem rate. Another option was to keep increase the councillor base pay to five percent of the median or roughly $19,853.

Percentage of Levy

Admaston/Bromley Mayor Michael Donohue said he would like to see calculations showing how much the costs for remuneration for council are in comparison with the overall budget levy as a percentage.

“I think that would be a good comparison,” he said.

Charitable organizations often show what percentage is spent on administration, he pointed out. This would show how much of the ratepayer taxes go for remuneration of county council, he said.

North Algona Wilberforce Mayor James Brose said he would not like to see the jump in one year from the current level of remuneration.

“I would be reluctant to jump it from where we are now to the 2021 rates,” he said. “I think that would be a significant hit for the taxpayers and the county budget.”

Arnprior County Councillor Dan Lynch questioned the mileage rates and asked if they could be increased. He pointed out the cost of gas was increasing rapidly.

CAO Paul Moreau said the mileage rate is set to follow the Revenue Canada mileage rate and that is a separate resolution as well.

Greater Madawaska Mayor Brian Hunt pointed out the discussion on remuneration was held several years ago and at that point the county moved away from per diem pay and moved into a more salary model.

“I was against that,” he said.

He questioned how the attendance has been since the per diem model was removed.

“I think the attendance is pretty good,” he noted. “Do we keep any stats on that to recognize that was a good move?”

Mr. Moreau said councillors cannot miss three meetings in a row. He said while this is not being actively tabulated, attendance is taken at all meetings.

“For the most part we have very good attendance,” he said.

“We take attendance at all meetings,” Warden Robinson pointed out. “I attend all meetings and it is seldom anyone is missing.”

Killaloe, Hagarty and Richards Mayor Janice Tiedje balked at Mayor Donohue’s suggesting waiting for more information and for calculations on what percentage of the budget the remuneration package comprises.

“What would that help us in making a decision on this?” she asked, noting there are the comparators available in terms of population and remuneration.

There are some counties which have roads departments and others don’t, she said. Some have many long-term care homes and others only a few, she said.

“If you are getting that picky, you have to look at what they provide compared to what we do,” she said.

Coun. Donohue responded Renfrew County has more councillors than most of the other counties used in comparison. He said Hastings County has 14 and all the others have far less.

“There are some that don’t operate social services,” noted CAO Paul Moreau.

However, Treasurer Jeff Foss said he would be able to make some calculations based on publicly available information. Following a break, he said the percentage of taxation spent on governance salary and benefits (council remuneration) worked out to about 0.99 percent for the County of Renfrew. He pointed out the levy (taxation) was $42,053,736 and the governance was $414,843. He also presented the comparators for the various municipalities and showed the average was 0.93 percent so the county was just slightly higher than the average.

Mr. Foss said increasing from the $14,283 to about $20,000 would be an increase of over $89,000 annually. He said if this was factored in, the percentage for remuneration would be about 1.20 percent.

An increase of $89,000 is less than one quarter of a percent in taxation, he added. One percent taxation increase is $420,000.

Once again, Mayor Tiedje said this comparison did not make sense. She pointed out he was comparing the remuneration at present for the other municipalities and factoring in an increase for the County of Renfrew.

“If they are getting increases you will not have the same figures,” she said.

Mayor Sheldon Keller of Brudenell, Lyndoch and Raglan also agreed.

“You have no way of factoring in the county levy or whatever council decided year to year,” he said. “It is not a fair representation.”

Mayor Jennifer Murphy of Bonnechere Valley said she had concerns about the increase to remuneration. She said increasing from the currently slightly over $14,000 to well over $19,000 did not sit well with her.

“I’m just not comfortable,” she said.

Councillor Lynch disagreed with her, noting you pay for what you get. He said this is about attracting the right people for municipal politics.

“We are doing a great job and to be compensated is the way to go,” he said.

Warden Robinson also noted the councillors are a group of hard-working individuals.

“We need to compensate people fairly for what they do,” she said.

When it came time for the recorded vote, only Mayor Murphy voted against the increase of roughly $6,600 phased in over four years or $1,650 a year.