‘Underpaid’ councillors hear from public

Tough economic times is not the time to consider more than doubling honorariums

Chris Clegg
South Peace News

A proposal to more than double High Prairie town council’s honorarium was unanimously denied by council at its March 10 meeting after an outcry from the public on social media and from delegations at the meeting.

A proposal to increase Mayor Brian Panasiuk’s honorarium to $1,000 from $400 per month and councillors honorarium’s to $750 from $350 was not appropriate given the tough economic times, council heard.

However, the idea is not dead yet. The proposed raises were received for information with an intent to bring the issue back “at a later date”.

Several citizens attended speaking in opposition to the raises.

“It’s just a proposal,” Mayor Brian Panasiuk told Tammy Napier, who was first to speak.

“It’s not been discussed at council at all.”

Joanne Murphy was concerned the public was not given time to respond to the proposal, saying the agenda was posted only the morning of the meeting.

Murphy noted the mayor’s increase would be 150 per cent and councillors’ 114 per cent.

“Unacceptable in these economic times,” said Murphy.

Sharon Cox asked who was on the committee which proposed the increase. Panasiuk replied staff and councillors comprised the bylaw review committee but did not disclose names. Later, he added the proposal came up on a general review of all bylaws of council.

Later, Councillor Donna Deynaka said she and Councillor Michael Long attended the meeting while Councillor Judy Stenhouse was absent.

“This was just one of those policies that came to our attention,” said Long, adding it was 15-20 years since the rates were increased.

“I do find the recommendations [high],” said Cox. “I will find it interesting to see what our mayor and councillors have to say.”

Cox added the proposal could have been passed given virtually no time for the public to respond.

“Our intent was not that,” said Long.

“I think you’ve heard from the public,” said Cox, asking if council could afford the raises.

“It is a really high increase,” said Sheila Jaworsky. “Maybe look at something a little lower.”

Councillor Brian Gilroy said the raises should be an election issue.

“We signed up for this amount,” he said. “It should be an election issue.”

“He also questioned the economic times and lack of economic growth in town.

“We’ve brought in two pot businesses. I don’t see how we can [justify] this.”

Councillors then took turns justifying the increases.

“From my idea, I had no idea what this would entail,” said Deynaka. “It’s not a money issue. We need compensation for what we do. I think we’re grossly underpaid. We’re being [poorly] compensated for the time and effort we put in.”

Rose agreed and eventually made the motion to bring the matter back at a later date. She did see both sides of the debate, however.

“I agree the time is really [bad]. The Province has downloaded so much it’s going to be tough to have no tax increase.”

She suggested to strike a bylaw committee with public participation, and disagreed with Gilroy that the matter should be an election issue.

And she added, some people have told her they would not run for council given the grief they have to put up with.

“I get what you’re feeling,” said Murphy. “We’ve [teachers] never made that five per cent cutback from Klein. Your timing is really, really bad.

“People aren’t going to swallow that very well. Everywhere you talk with people it’s tough,” Murphy said.

“I hear what you’re saying,” said Deynaka. “I don’t view it as a job. This is something I chose to do to give back to the community. It’s scary out there.”

“I agree with everything that’s been said,” said Panasiuk.

“I think we’re underpaid. How do we deal with this moving forward?

“I don’t think anyone came into this looking for money. You’re giving back to the community. That’s what most of us are here for.”

Mostly silent during debate were councillors Judy Stenhouse and Arlen Quartly.

“I feel everybody’s pain,” said Stenhouse.

“I view myself as public servant. We are public servants. Heavy on the public.”

She agreed with Gilroy that the timing was bad and increased pay should be an election issue.

Quartly was succinct.

“You don’t want to hear [from] me!”

The issue of raising meal allowances and mileage was also proposed. Most agreed, including most of the delegations, that the $9.20 rate for breakfast was too low.

What others are paid
[figures per month]

High Prairie

Mayor $400
Deputy Mayor $350
Councillors $350

Slave Lake

Mayor $1,667
Deputy Mayor $1,000
Councillors $918

Valleyview

Mayor $500
Deputy Mayor 0
Councillors 0
Grimshaw

Mayor $480
Deputy Mayor 0
Councillors 0

Peace River

Mayor $2,200
Deputy Mayor $1,665
Councillors $1,385

Editor’s note: It should be noted that fees to attend meetings differ for each community. For example, while Grimshaw and Valleyview get no honorarium, their fees paid to attend meetings are

Criticism backfires

One of the more humourous moments during debate came from Councillor Michael Long.
While Sharon Cox was reading figures of the proposed increases at the meeting, Long was quick to respond.
“I don’t read the paper you read,” he said.
Cox held up the paper she was reading from. It was the council’s own agenda.
After a good laugh, everyone settled back down to business.

Get what you pay for?

One of the reasons members of council should get more money is it will attract better candidates.
At least that is what Councillor Michael Long said during debate.
Later in the meeting, after delegations had spoken and Long left the meeting, Councillor Brian Gilroy spoke and said Long should apologize to all members of council.
“I wish Councillor Long was here,” he said, adding he took exception to the insinuation that better pay would bring out better candidates.
“I took it as an insult to this council.”

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