Saint Andrews town council has voted to give themselves a double-digit salary increase, despite a former councillor’s call for an independent committee to determine wages.

Deputy mayor Kate Akagi said as a part of local governance reform, the province set the wages for the municipalities which underwent full elections earlier in the fall.

But Saint Andrews was one of many communities which had a byelection, as its population grew by less than 50 per cent with the addition of nearby local service districts of Bayside and Chamcook.

That means it’s up to the council to set its own remuneration, she said, using the formula circulated by the Association of Francophone Municipalities of New Brunswick as a guide.

The guide uses various criteria to determine remuneration, including population, services provided to the public, institutions and infrastructure within the municipality, the average tax base per resident and size of the municipality.

Based on that, the recommended salary ranges are between $34,400 and $42,650 for the town’s mayor, $14,792 and $20,472 for the deputy mayor, and $13,072 and $18,339 for councillors.

That’s a far cry from the council’s current salaries, wherein the town’s mayor, Brad Henderson, makes $13,525, the deputy mayor brings home just under $9,000 and councillors are paid $7,542.

The proposed pay increase raised the eyebrow of Guy Groulx, a former town councillor, who presented at a public hearing of objections, saying the wage increase after “forced amalgamation” may be a tough pill to swallow for residents, especially during trying economic times.

He also cited a section of the Local Governance Act which prohibits council members from making use of his or her position for personal gain.

“Clearly, a bylaw to substantially increase the salary qualifies as a personal gain,” he said in a letter to the town council, suggesting council appoint a committee “with no ties to council or staff” to hold public meetings and determine the council’s future salary.

Town clerk Paul Nopper, though, said it isn’t a conflict of interest, as “council has the right to set their remuneration at the level they choose.”

Geoff Martin, a political science professor at Mount Allison University and former deputy mayor of Sackville, said the Local Governance Act section which makes reference to “personal gain” refers to an individual member of council rather than a council acting at large.

He added citizens who believe councillors are violating the act by giving themselves pay increases could complain to the province’s Ombud.

“But I do believe council is legally allowed to do this,” he said.

Councils across the province have to “take care” in these issues, he said, as councillors “won’t necessarily be paid for every hour.”

Put plainly, council salaries aren’t supposed to be a financial drain on municipalities.

“Our system was designed so the money the municipality has goes directly to services and staff that implement will of the council, not necessarily where mayor and council absorb a noticeable portion of the revenues,” he said.

Saint Andrews council ultimately voted unanimously in favour of the pay raises, which bring the town’s local politicians closely in line with other councils in Charlotte County. Eastern Charlotte’s mayor is paid $33,000 a year, and St. Stephen’s is paid $37,000.

Henderson suggested lowering his salary by 20 per cent, bringing it to $27,520, and moving the savings to the volunteer fire department’s budget but was not supported by members around the horseshoe. He mulled potentially donating part of his salary back to the town.

Coun. Marc Blanchard said it would “undervalue” the work the mayor does, and added the fire department’s budget can be reviewed as a separate issue.

Coun. Steve Neil said the goal was to bring the council’s salary to the same level as other councils in the province.

Akagi noted she had been on council for “a long time” and several previous councils had voted to keep their salaries low.

“With this one-time raise, I think it’s helpful,” she said, noting three councillors soon joining the horseshoe following the byelection.

Coun. Jamie Hirtle said it was “one of those impossible decisions to make,” but increasing the salary range could increase the range of people who can serve on the town’s council.

“You have to be of a certain financial mobility to be able to exist on what we’ve historically been paid,” he said. “That reduces the subset of people who can participate in council, local governance, to a very small set of people. 

“At the end of the day, you have to be able to afford to do this.”

By Marlo Glass, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Dec 15, 2022 at 06:55

This item reprinted with permission from   Telegraph-Journal   Saint John, New Brunswick

Comments are Welcome - Leave a reply below - Posts are moderated