London city hall: Council endorses hefty pay hike for relatively underpaid ward councillors

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London city politicians supported a recommendation to give the next council a hefty raise — more than $10,000 — but said they didn’t relish doing it.

Council’s strategic priorities and policy committee talked at length about the “uncomfortable” nature of discussing council pay on Monday night, with some tense moments punctuating hours of debate over a proposal to tie councillors pay to the median full-time employment income.

Councillors make about $36,000 and haven’t had a raise since 2013, but a task force suggested their pay should be hiked by 30 per cent or more.

In 2011, the median full-time income in London was $47,805. The 2016 census data is expected in the fall.

Basing council’s wages on the pay of ordinary local residents was billed as a “made-in-London solution,” something many politicians found attractive.

“It’s fair with what an average Londoner is making out there,” said Coun. Tanya Park, noting this is the first time she hasn’t had to work two or more jobs.

“If I’m going to be sitting on a council as an average Londoner, I should be compensated as an average Londoner.”

Dan Ross, a retired lawyer and chair of the task force that made the recommendations, said the group tried hard to find a reasonable standard that would compensate councillors fairly for the work they do.

“We feel strongly that moving to a benchmark makes an awful lot of sense,” Ross said.

The task force reviewed pay for ward councillors, but not the mayor, who makes the taxable equivalent of about $130,000 between his stipend and benefits.

But the optics of a dramatic pay raise weren’t lost on politicians.

“This is a big increase to put through all at once,” said Coun. Maureen Cassidy.

Council’s longest-serving member, Bill Armstrong, said he’d support a smaller increase, and pushed for the idea that pay should be tied to the number of constituents a politician represents.

Armstrong and councillors Michael van Holst, Maureen Cassidy, Phil Squire and Stephen Turner opposed the recommendation. Coun. Jared Zaifman was absent. All others supported the raise. The proposal goes to council for a formal vote.

On an unrelated matter, politicians on the city’s governance working group voted to ask staff to report back on making the city a nepotism-free workplace.

But the key, Coun. Phil Squire said, is for staff and politicians to define nepotism.

“Really, it’s appointing someone who’s unqualified, who’s a relative or friend, when someone else is better qualified,” he said. “I just want to be clear, it’s not a ban on relatives or friends working for the corporation.” 

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