Local politicians to vote themselves a HUGE salary increase?

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Will the madness never end? Just two weeks after Saint John city council expressed serious concern over rising costs at City Hall and suggested a user fee is needed to offset the “huge”, but undefined, cost of freedom of information requests filed by citizens, these same politicians are about to vote themselves a truly huge salary increase of more than 50 per cent!

An ‘independent’ management consulting firm hired to review compensation (in typical fashion, there is no mention of what the review itself cost taxpayers) is about to recommend that councillors salaries and expenses be pegged at $29,500 annually. Currently they receive $12,600 a year in salary and $6,300 for expenses. The Mayor’s salary would jump from $57,000 to $74,000, an increase of 30 per cent. This in a city where almost 30,000 of its 70,000 inhabitants live in poverty!

That council has not had an increase in salary in 15 years is immaterial. Most, if not all the current council members are new to the job and knew exactly what the compensation was before deciding to run for office. And even if they had all served for the pasts 15 years, one would have to question giving them a salary increase of such magnitude considering they have failed miserably as a group to even begin to solve the immense problems facing our city.

Remember, this is a part-time job, although one UNB “yacademic” recently told the CBC that “it’s kind of hard to imagine that some of these jobs are considered part time, when you think about the challenges that the city is facing.”  Huh? How does that even remotely relate to the time and effort councillors put into their work? Most can’t even be bothered to respond to emails sent to them by citizens. (Only 4 responded to my recent missive in which I expressed my outrage over their hyperbolic efforts to impose a user fee on freedom of information requests). The Mayor was among the silent. And this same city council is so inattentive to details, that it apparently didn’t even bother to ensure that the new Irving HQ that was rushed through the approval process provided for sufficient parking! Now, councillors are lining up to help Lord Irving find 120 parking spots uptown so their poor employees won’t have to walk a few extra blocks to get to their already sedentary office jobs. Whatever happened to the city’s stated goal of building “healthy” neighbourhoods? Given their attitude to date, it’s a wonder they don’t just bulldoze King Square and allow the Irving employees to park there!

Councillor Donna Reardon was one of the few to respond to my email related to the Request for Information boondoggle. She acknowledged that this city is in a financial bind. These are her exact words: “Saint John feels the impact of rising costs of providing services, especially fire and police, holding the tax rate, stagnant population growth and increasing RTI requests.” I’m uncertain as to how she could put RTI (request for information) in the same category as rising police and fire services, but, there you go). Let’s be thankful that at least she recognizes the financial burden that the city is in, and as such, one would clearly expect that she will not be voting for a 50 per cent increase in her own salary. We shall see soon enough.

Councillor Reardon also noted that “It’s difficult to determine what citizens as a group want their tax $$ spent on.”  I can guarantee you that, given the financial mess that Saint John is in and the lack of solutions advanced by this or previous city councils …due largely to the lack of leadership and ability of many local politicians…the last thing this citizen wants is to help them feather their nests with a 50 per cent pay hike.

Now, having said all this, I believe Saint John city councillors are somewhat underpaid. I propose a ‘reasonable’ salary increase be approved immediately, perhaps in the order of 10 per cent, and the remainder of the recommended increase be forestalled until the beginning of the next council term, in 2020. At least, by then, we will know if the current Mayor or any of the city councillors are worthy of a higher salary. The proof, as they say, will be in the pudding.

Doug James
Port City Politics

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