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Sackville town council could undergo salary review

Mayor John Higham responded recently to a resident’s concerns over a series of news reports coming out of New Brunswick’s major daily newspapers this summer, pointing to what appears to be a “culture of secrecy” that is being developed in some municipalities around the province, with many towns and cities going behind closed doors for too many meetings.
Sackville town council is considering the idea of forming a citizens' advisory committee to review the salaries of the mayor and council. - FILE PHOTO

But not all councillors in favour of idea

SACKVILLE, N.B. —

A citizens’ advisory committee could be formed to review the salaries of Sackville’s mayor and council.

That was one of the suggestions to come out of council’s monthly discussion meeting last week, where council remuneration was a topic of debate as some councillors expressed support for a potential wage increase while others argued against any kind of raise.

“I knew what the compensation package was when I ran for office and I’m happy with it,” said Coun. Bill Evans.

Evans said he doesn’t support the idea of pursuing any kind of salary review, either by council itself or by a citizen-led committee. He said council is paid well, both in terms of salary and benefits, which includes a life, health and dental package.

“If you add those two together and you compare it to every other comparable-sized municipality in New Brunswick, we’re the best compensated,” he said. “We seem to be doing very well.”

Sackville treasurer Michael Beal conducted research this summer comparing Sackville council’s salaries to that of other municipalities throughout New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Out of the New Brunswick towns he surveyed, the salaries range from $10.82 to $30.39 per capita. Sackville is at the higher end of that scale, he said, at $26.08 per capita.

Nova Scotia councils are compensated a bit higher, with their salaries ranging from $18.89 to a little over $40 per capita, out of the towns Beal reviewed.

He noted as well that, out of the communities he surveyed in both provinces, only Sackville, N.B. and Kentville, N.S. offer a benefits package to its council and mayor.

The idea to establish a citizen-led committee was proposed by several members of council, who pointed out this move was in keeping with the actions taken by the council of the day about 15 years ago when they underwent a remuneration review.

Coun. Joyce O’Neil, who has served on council for the past 16 years, said she hasn’t received any other wage hike since the one that was approved in 2005, other than the annual cost-of-living increases. These increases, which have ranged from 0 per cent (during the two years council agreed to waive their increases in 2010 and ’11) up to 3 per cent, are based on 90 per cent of the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

O’Neil also argued that changes to federal legislation that came into effect this year also requires councillors and mayors to pay income tax on the full amount of their salary, rather than the two thirds they had paid on in the past. She said this will put her in a higher income tax bracket, leaving her less money.

“So do I want a raise? You bet,” she said.

Coun. Bruce Phinney agreed with his colleague. He said the town of Amherst, for one, made up for the difference in their councils’ wages so their mayors and councillors would not have to take a pay cut with this new federal requirement.

“There comes a time when a raise is only fair,” he said. “So if it’s going to be left up to me to vote on a raise, yeah I want one too.”

But both councillors Allison Butcher and Mike Tower stated they simply couldn’t justify asking the taxpayers to pay more in order for councillors to get a raise to cover their higher income tax bills.

“I don’t think the town should pay more to make up for that,” said Tower, who said he’s satisfied with the salary and benefits he receives for his councillor role.

Mayor John Higham pointed out that, if council decides it wants to pursue a salary review further, a citizens’ advisory group could provide an external look at things like: “what is the value of the job in the current marketplace, what are the options and what would you bring forward, including the question of whether it should take place for the next council or not.”

Historical data on Sackville council salaries from past 23 years. This does not include the health and dental benefits package councillors and mayor qualify for through the town.
Historical data on Sackville council salaries from past 23 years. This does not include the health and dental benefits package councillors and mayor qualify for through the town.

Some councillors were somewhat agreeable to the idea, if only to avoid the potential for conflict of interest in making their own recommendations on the issue.

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken said typically, council “bends over backward in caution” to avoid conflict-of-interest scenarios in its day-to-day operations.

“But when it comes to our own salaries, the most direct benefit we have, we can vote on it. It’s bizarre.”

Aiken said a citizens’ committee could take a look at what the job should be paid and apply any increases to the next incoming council.

Butcher agreed it’s a strange position for councillors to be in, recommending and voting on their own wages. So if council were to move forward, she would support the idea of a citizens’ advisory committee as well, along with a suggestion that any new wage increases be applied after the next municipal election.

Coun. Shawn Mesheau was hesitant to agree to a citizens’ advisory committee, cautioning his fellow councillors they might not like all the recommendations brought forward and he questioned how they would “pick and choose” which ones to accept. The 2005 committee not only proposed a lower wage hike than council later approved but it also recommended a reduction in the number of councillors.

Coun. Andrew Black said he wouldn’t be opposed to the idea of cutting down the size of council, noting that only a small handful of municipalities amongst the towns Beal surveyed have eight councillors.

“I think we could potentially do our jobs effectively and efficiently with a couple less councillors maybe,” said Black.

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