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Council pay increase displays disconnect

Posted on April 12, 2017 by Taber Times

Taber town council’s recent decision to enhance the mayor position’s pay by $12,000 annually, with a further $36,000 in total divided between six councillor positions, brings council pay rates to just below the average of a dozen municipalities that were studied by administration.

There are strong arguments that could be made that council was justified in voting to significantly boost their total annual remuneration, chief among which was the previously-mentioned study compiled by the town of a dozen like-sized municipalities, which also showed Taber’s mayor and council remuneration in last place in both categories.

To be fair, the increase might not seem like much. But it’s the considerations that swirl both inside and outside of the numbers that really matter in politics — beyond the obviously negative optics when elected officials decide to vote themselves a raise.

Mayor Henk DeVlieger has been quick on the attack any time fellow councillors have used this unfortunate terminology during previous discussion of the issue, and has been right in pointing out in each instance that the pay raises will only come into effect for a new council after Oct. 16.

What DeVlieger fails to point out, however, is that since he has announced his candidacy for the coming election, constantly making the point that increased pay will be for a newly-elected council is a bit disingenuous — especially if voters choose to hand him a new mandate at the ballot box. Virtually the same criticism could be leveled at any of the present councillors that might be seeking re-election in 2017.

Quite recently in late 2016, DeVlieger made strongly-worded public statements about attempting to open a dialogue with unionized town employees regarding pay increases and contract negotiations. Voting pay increases to your own position while at the same time talking about fiscal restraint for town employees doesn’t do much for your credibility, and it is unclear how this will enhance any dialogue that DeVlieger hopes to establish with these organizations.

Not to mention the fact that to take this action while still in the midst of one of the worst recessions in the province’s history should have many citizens questioning the level of disconnect that appears to exist at the highest levels in the community.

Public sector pay increases tend to make the average citizen’s blood boil. And while the totality of the pay increases in question here — roughly $48,000 annually — might not seem like much, that’s still a lot of public dollars that could have been put towards projects, infrastructure, or programming.

In business, much is often made of the concept of paying market rates to get the best possible candidates for the job. But when it comes to elected office, this idea largely falls on its face. Paying your mayor more than any other municipality doesn’t necessarily guarantee the people will elect the best candidate for the job. So why the obsession with better rates of pay, or with maintaining a comparative average?

It could easily be argued that keeping rates of pay at a bare minimum is what ensures the best candidates for the job in elected office. One thing is for sure — no one will question why an individual is running for office, other than a spirit of volunteerism or to make his or her community a better place. But making the positions more financially lucrative will muddy these waters to the point where the question of motivation begins to arise.

During discussion, many councillors made comments to the effect that they choose to serve the community, and that it isn’t about the money. If that was actually true in the strictest sense — if it isn’t all about the money — then why did council move to increase their pay?

The job of a politician should never be about what an individual believes they can get out of it, but rather how much they can contribute back.

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