There's been a bit of coverage in the media this week about council compensation, after the public accounts were released last week, as they are every year, identifying what everyone on council was paid the previous year. Compensation levels have gone up over the previous year, for two reasons. Our base salaries are linked to the compensation levels for Cabinet, so when those go up, our salaries go up the next year. This council also voted to increase the per diem - the daily rate that is paid whenever a full day is spent on council business, and the car allowance. This vote took place more than a year ago, so last year's compensation reflects decisions made some time ago, in a regular council meeting, in public, as are all decisions related to council compensation.
The per diem is the reason why there is a difference between some councillors' salaries. Mine was probably at the top of the list this time because I go to out of town committee meetings, which take a whole day. Attending conferences out of town also means per diems, as does attending full day meetings in town, like those that we have for strategic planning. The per diem increase was the first since I've been on council - twelve years - and we lagged far behind the rates paid by other cities in the province, so we were playing catch up, as it were.
The report also included what each member of council has spent for travel expenses. Again, whether a councillor attends out of town conferences is going to affect the amount paid for travel - not everyone has the flexibility in their schedules to do so. Each councillor has an amount set in the budget for travel each year, and it's up to each councillor to decide what travel, if any, they are going to do. This is an equitable system which seems to be working well - it's worth noting that nobody exceeded their travel budget, which I think is a good illustration that councillors plan out their travel to ensure that they can attend those conferences which most interest them, and aren't just looking to spend all that they can.
The difficulty that some media seemed to have was that council approved the increase in per diems and car allowance, suggesting that we gave ourselves our own raise. Of course, the only raise that we control is the per diem rate, which works out to less than 10% of total salary. The other 90% is controlled by the province. There have been some years when there's been no increase at all, neither in base rate or per diems, which as I said, hadn't been increased in more than 10 years.
I think that the current system is about as hands-off as we can get. I suppose there are alternatives out there - we could link to increases in cost-of-living, which would mean a raise every year, or we could link to raises that city employees get. Both of these would result in much greater increases, and I don't think that would be popular with the public.
It's interesting that the other part of public accounts which releases the salaries of city employees, only starts with those employees who earn more than $50,000 annually, and doesn't release any staff travel expenses. So the situation is that eight of the nine people who make the final decisions on how the city runs would not have their salaries released if we were under the same rules. I'm not advocating that, but it does put things into perspective - even with our so-called huge salary increases, we don't make a lot of money. There aren't too many places where the bosses make less than the staff.
I don't think that anyone on council is there to get rich - if they are, they've had a big surprise. The job doesn't pay well, you're on call seven days a week, your every decision is public and open to criticism, and on-line forums have brought a whole new way for people to insult you anonymously.
I didn't run for council to get rich, but I do think that some form of compensation is required, and it should be equitable with other cities in the province. I can't think of a single occasion where I've been berated by a member of the public for being over-paid, but I have gotten many thanks from people who see that I put in a fair amount of effort, and they appreciate that. I've also gotten even more comments from people along the lines of "I could never do that for that amount of money. Thank goodness there are people who will."
And that's what it comes down to - anybody with a job knows that the paycheque is only part of the reason that you do the job. But not too many people would do their jobs for nothing, and I don't think that anyone on this current council needs to be embarrassed about being compensated fairly for doing a difficult job.
"What's worth doing is worth doing for money." - Gordon Gekko (Wall Street)