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Council and staff pay hotly debated during committee meeting

‘I feel as though the optics aren’t great for us to be moving 12 people into getting big raises, or raises at all,’ says Collingwood councillor
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Erika Engel/CollingwoodToday

The Town of Collingwood is taking a closer look at how they currently pay non-union employees, as well as elected councillors.

During Friday’s (Nov. 6) strategic initiatives standing committee meeting, councillors continued their conversation on a presentation and report given on Monday (Nov. 2) on council and staff remuneration from Gallagher Benefit Services Group Inc. Out of that report, councillors were told staff wages are competitive with other similarly-sized municipalities, as is compensation for town councillors.

However, the consultant recommends bumping pay by a small percentage in order to stay competitive.

Coun. Mariane McLeod noted that the report on remuneration was requested in July 2019, with plans to have it delivered back to council in June 2020.

“I understand that COVID-19 exists but we’re being told by our staff – and I believe them – that productivity didn’t drop at all due to sending people home during COVID,” said McLeod. “Why is it that this report is 16 months late?”

Executive director of customer and corporate services Amanda Pegg said staff priorities shifted to the pandemic during that time, and council and non-union staff remuneration “trickled to the bottom” of the list.

“It took more time than we anticipated,” said Pegg.

McLeod also pointed out that when council sent direction to staff on the matter, they were instructed to review the role of a council member as part-time employment, but that it was absent in the report.

Jane Mizanski of Gallagher Benefit Services Group Inc. said she wasn’t instructed to include that in her report.

“Why wasn’t the consultant directed by staff to do what council directed staff to do?” asked McLeod.

Pegg clarified that part-time of full-time status of councillors was taken into consideration as part of the analysis.

“In terms of a recommendation for Collingwood council to move from part-time to full-time status, that wasn’t considered,” said Pegg.

CAO Sonya Skinner said she would look into what the recommendation was and would report back to council.

As part of Gallagher’s report, compensation data for council and non-union employees was compared between the Town of Collingwood and other municipalities such as Wasaga Beach, Meaford, Clearview, Niagara-on-the-Lake and Orillia.

The town adjusts the non-union salary grid annually in consideration of consumer price index, comparator increases, cost of living adjustments (COLA) and general changes in the market.

While Gallagher determined the town base remuneration is competitive, the report recommends the base remuneration continue to be adjusted by the same cost of living increases applied to non-union employee group and the town continues to undertake a market review once every term of office to ensure the remuneration remains competitive.

In 2020, the base salary for Collingwood’s mayor came in at $45,169, deputy mayor at $32,085 and councillors at $25,440 each. Members of council also get per-diem rates for special meetings outside of the regular schedule. 

SEE ALSO: Collingwood council salaries down slightly in 2020 compared to 2019.

For the mayor position, Collingwood ranked generally in the middle of the municipalities in regards to base salary, with Orillia, Owen Sound, Huntsville and New Tecumseth’s mayors making more than that, while Wasaga Beach, Innisfil and Clearview’s mayors making less. There were similar findings in regards to the deputy mayor and councillor positions.

To improve the value proposition to candidates for elected office, the report recommends the town explore enhancements such as:

  • Adjusting the base remuneration for mayor to $49,458 (9.5% increase).
  • Adjusting the base remuneration for councillor to $26,712 (5% increase), to be more closely aligned to that of deputy mayor, and
  • Considering alternative benefit offerings including Health Spending Account in lieu of insured benefits coverage

Manager of human resources Melissa McCuaig said about 12 non-union staff would be getting raises by moving into a higher band through the recommendations, plus getting a cost of living increase under the new pay grids.

“I am very concerned about moving into a new grid. I believe the Sunshine List says we have 50 employees on that list,” said Coun. McLeod. “I am having a struggle with the fact that we have this many people in the town’s employ who are doing so very well. I understand they all work very hard, but I feel as though the optics aren’t great for us to be moving 12 people into getting big raises, or raises at all, when they’re already getting COLA no matter what.”

“We’re struggling with an affordable housing crisis in this town and have just come through a pandemic. I’m trying to be compassionate to our staff, but I’m also mindful of the compassion that is required for our citizens,” she said. 

Skinner said it’s not a zero-sum game.

“We’re all here to make sure we move forward together,” said Skinner. “The people we’re hiring are people who are working on the Official Plan and economic development. How do we get the team council needs fairly, keep them here and motivated? I do have faith in the report.”

“The people we’re hiring are turning our investment in them into good for the community,” said Skinner.

Coun. Yvonne Hamlin asked about governance structure, making a council position into a full-time position and whether council should consider the possibility of moving toward a ward system. Clerk Sara Almas said that while it was too late to make a change prior to the 2022 municipal election, that it was a question that could be put on the ballot.

“I am so cognizant of the fact that we would have a wider pool of candidates for council if the compensation was full-time. We could have younger people who may be parents in our community who couldn’t possibly juggle a full-time job, a family and the part-time responsibilities that come with this position,” said Hamlin.

Coun. Steve Berman said the topic of full-time versus part-time compensation for councillors has been a topic of coffee-shop conversation since long before he became a councillor.

“I think the flip side is, if you offer pay for a full-time councillor, you run the risk of attracting the wrong type of people to run for council because the only reason they’re running is because it’s a good-paying job,” said Berman.

“I think we all have our idea of what makes a good councillor. I think it takes thick skin, common sense and a moral compass. I don’t think you’re necessarily going to get those qualities by offering more money,” he said.

Recommendations to proceed with adjustments to the non-union salary pay grid and amendments to human resource policies were passed unanimously.

Coun. Berman asked that the pay increase for councillors begin with the next council following the 2022 election. However his request didn't get enough support from council, with Coun. Bob Madigan, Berman, McLeod and Mayor Brian Saunderson voting in favour, and Coun. Hamlin, Deb Doherty, Kathy Jeffery, and Deputy Mayor Keith Hull voting against the delayed start. Coun. Tina Comi was absent from the meeting.

A recommendation to amend council compensation based on the consultant’s recommendations was passed 6-2 with Madigan and Berman opposed.

McLeod put forward a further amendment asking that moving forward, councillor expense accounts be allowed to be used for child care. The amendment was passed 5-3 with Madigan, Berman and Coun. Kathy Jeffery opposed.

“I think this could be a step toward allowing young families toward participating in democracy,” said McLeod.

All recommendations will need to be ratified at the next meeting of council before going into effect.

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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 14 years of experience to her role as reporter for Village Media, primarily covering Collingwood and education.
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