INNISFAIL — York County councillors admitted Tuesday they failed to consult taxpayers before handing themselves a 46 per cent pay hike.
“Maybe we did err by not involving the public. They didn’t know and they should always be involved,” Councillor Penny Archibald told taxpayers at a town hall meeting west of Innisfail.
In February, council unanimously voted for an annual salary of $30,000 plus about $3,500 in per diems for attending meetings. That compared with $23,000 earned previously in annual combined salary and per diems.
Councillors, who had never before discussed the raise in public, argued salaries should be high enough to attract quality candidates to run for election.
Questioned about the raise on Tuesday, Councillor Stan Bell said he received calls from taxpayers who believed council picked the salary figure “out of the air” and made a quick, arbitrary decision.
Bell said councillors had actually talked about wages for more than a year and had looked at salaries in other municipalities.
None of that information, however, was brought forward at the February council meeting or afterwards.
Bell and Archibald said their only regret is not allowing the public to respond before council voted. People could have been notified that council was considering the raise, said Bell.
Bell said he received about 12 phone calls and numerous comments about the raise — all but two in favour.
“I have a young family and I need to support them. When you ask me to take off 120 days a year (for meetings), it hurts my business.”
Daryl Kinsella, wife of Reeve Earl Kinsella, said their home has become a 24-hour-a-day office for her husband’s county-related tasks.
The issue arose when Pine Lake resident Bill Weisenburger asked whether the new pay system could have discouraged a few councillors from attending the town hall meeting at Cottonwood Gordon Ag Community Centre. Under the old system, councillors would have been paid a per diem for attending the meeting. Under the new system, they’re not paid for attending the meeting but are paid the higher overall salary.
Councillors said they didn’t believe the new system had an impact on attendance.
In response to a question about whether privatization of services has been effective, county manager Rob Coon said it will be assessed this year. Privatization has saved money. Now council wants to look at the affect on service levels.