And council works hard, said Timothy Habinski.
“We have changed the expectations of what council has to do. I think we were obliged to,” Habinski said. “The old model of how municipalities functioned -- as basically being responsible for sanitation and garbage collection -- hasn’t worked for the province. You can see it. We have changed the expectation of what a councilor should do.”
Council’s remuneration policy was amended June 20 with a new pay scale for councillors. It reflects a raise of about 25 per cent, but Habinski is quick to point out it’s still a subsistence level salary for the full-time job it’s become.
Councillors will now be paid $18,945.40 with the warden making double that. The deputy warden will receive the councillor’s pay plus an additional $5,683.78.
Each councilor will receive $9,472.70 a year as an allowance for expenses with the warden receiving twice that amount and the deputy getting an extra $2,841.89.
The increase brings councillor salaries to about $2,000 less than King's County, which is in the next municipal size bracket up.
“We’re certainly much more active as a municipality and I think people who live here are seeing the results of that,” Habinski said. “They’re seeing the results of our being vocal on the issue of forestry, and tooling ourselves up to be able to have a presence at that table and negotiations. They’re seeing it in the internet project that we’re rolling forward. We’re the first rural municipality in Atlantic Canada to have a China engagement initiative and we’re already seeing the benefits of that now with the first group of students coming to Atlantic Canada (this) week.”
He said the work council is taking on is bearing results that benefit the region -- but that work involves changing the expectations of what a councilor has to do.
“We have a number of councilors now who are working this as a full-time job,” he said. “Re-establishing the baseline of the salary to something I would call a subsistence level salary. We’ve moved from what’s minimum wage in Nova Scotia to what’s minimum wage in Ontario under the new policy as remuneration. That’s a subsistence level salary and if we have councillors who are working full time making decisions to try to improve the lives and benefit residents of Annapolis County I think there’s an issue if equity there.”
The work councillors are doing is the immediate part, said the warden. But that’s not the only reason for increasing remuneration.
“We also were intent on establishing compensation at a level that removes a barrier to participation,” he said. “There’s a reason you look across the province and municipal councils and see a lot of grey heads. And it’s not that we disrespect the contribution that retirees make to those councils, but if the system is set up so that only retirees who have a stable source of income can even consider sitting on councils I think you do a disservice to your community.”
He said there needs to be more diversity of opinion on a council.
“It’s important to know what people who are still working age would like to see happen in their communities,” he said. “It’s important to know what parents of young children want to see happen in their communities. This level of compensation I think makes it possible potentially for a young woman and single mom to serve on council to potentially end up warden of the municipality. I think having that barrier to access removed was an important thing.”
Not everyone agreed. Two of 11 councillors, Diane LeBlanc and Burt McNeil, voted against the raise.