Why do we persist in underpaying our elected representatives?

Posted May 11, 2014

The old expression: “You only get what you pay for” rings true when you look at the quality of members of the current Farbridge dominated council.

Let’s face it, how can we justify paying the Mayor less than half the salary of the Chief Administrative Officer who currently receives $213,000 plus benefits? Both are full time jobs and the CAO doesn’t have to deal with getting re-elected or with the political aspects of council leadership.

An advisory group of unnamed citizens announced that the mayor’s salary should increase by 21.7 per cent after this year’s election. The balance of council would receive a 15 per cent increase, spaced over the next four-year term. Naturally the governance committee of council, chaired by the Mayor accepted the report and it is to be ratified by council.

But is it enough? Enough to match the dramatic pay increases awarded city staff in the past eight years?

That is the product of an aggressive staff salaries and benefits gains in recent years. This has dramatically escalated the costs of public service employees, has occurred despite the country lying in a deep economic depression that began in 2008.

It is not just a Guelph problem. Every municipality in Ontario faces the long-term liabilities that will cost taxpayers millions to sustain in the future.

In Guelph’s case, the staff of more that 2,100 full-time equivalent employees consume 80 per cent of the property tax levies. That represents 46 per cent of all city revenues. As each year passes, the property tax pool of revenue has to grow just to cover the ever-growing generous remuneration paid to its employees.

The problem lies with the elected officials. They allow the “whipsaw” effect of wage increases by allowing comparisons of pay structures in similar sized communities. This is hokum, pure and simple. Salaries, wages and benefits should be assessed on the basis of work performed in Guelph, not based on what some other unrelated community is paying.

So solving the problem rests with the elected members of council. But why shouldn’t they negotiate fair pay for fair work? In Guelph, the council has delegated the director of human resources to negotiate with the unions on behalf of the management association. That’s the same as letting the fox into the hen house.

For taxpayers, the last eight years has seen property taxes increase by 35 per cent, one of the highest in Ontario

Here’s a small example. In the paper the other day there was a listing for a home in Streetsville with three bedrooms, three baths and 3,500 square feet of living space. The listed asking price was $1,100,000. The taxes were $3,475. Compared that to a home in Guelph with similar size and amenities, the property taxes are $6,400.

This is the how Guelph Council has exponentially allowed the city to become one of the most expensive cities in which to live in Ontario. Couple this with huge increases in user fees, including 100 per cent increases in development fees.

This is taking our city into a situation where potential industrial and commercial developers will not include Guelph as a place to establish, due to the high costs of operating a profitable and productive business.

So why should the citizens stand for these rising costs inflicted on residents and businesses when most families have not had a raise since 2008? Their civic employees average a three per cent base salary increase every year.

When the subject of increasing the Mayor’s salary by 21.7 per cent, I’m all in favour provided the incumbent shows leadership to stop the bleeding of citizens through escalating property taxes.

More importantly, there is no such thing as a part-time councillor anymore. It’s a full- time job for which we should be paying more than $31,000 a year.

This is a primary election issue. If you don’t elect people who have basic business and social instincts then you only get what you paid for.

This report is only a band-aid to city governance. The real issue is reducing the size of council from 13 to nine and paying those elected a commensurate salary for full-time work.

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5 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

5 responses to “Why do we persist in underpaying our elected representatives?

  1. Glen N. Tolhurst

    You raise some valid points about getting what you pay for.
    If there are to be increases for the mayor & councilors they should be in the form of bonuses tied to performance. Too often now gigantic amounts of funding are thrown at dubious strategic feel-good projects that have not been rigourously analyzed from a business perspective because few councilors have any business management experience. Let’s move to a zero-based-budgeting methodology with the mayor and councilors having pay increases tied to an annual property tax increase (including MPAC) of less than or equal to the CPI. For every 0.1 the tax is above the CPI, 10% of the remuneration increase is deducted so that with a tax increase 1 point above the CPI increase, there is no increase. For the numerically challenged members of council that would mean if CPI increase was 1.5% and tax increase was 1.5%, the bonus earned would be 100% of available, while with an increase of 2.5%, there would be no increase. Apply the same criterion to the “C” level personnel, executive directors, and general mangers of civic departments. That would really focus them on providing only the necessary services to the tax payers in an efficient and effective manner.

    • Glen N. Tolhurst: I’m with you all the way on your analysis of making elected officials and staff accountable. Tying performance to remuneration would go a long way to correcting the policy and financial blunders inflicted on citizens in the past eight years. gb

  2. geo

    The Mayor is not underpaid the CAO is overpaid; way way overpaid.

  3. Jeff

    The mayor is way underpaid, if you want a highly qualified mayor, willing to give up whatever career they previously had with only a 4 year guarantee you need to make it worth their while. For once I agree with Gerry.

  4. Paul

    I am with Geo on this one, Farbridge has no worthwhile business experience. She throws money into the downtown like a drunken sailor while neglecting the high growth East and South ends of the City! The South end needs a Rec Centre and the East end needs a large Grocery store, in the meantime our City roads are neglected and are not repaved!
    It would be nice to see a program/plan to repave the City streets on a yearly basis. Instead of this she prefers to spend over $10 millions on bike lanes to support the Motor Mouth Councillor.
    Remember this failure to plan especially when the Municipal election rolls around in October

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