The Village of Harrison Council was of many minds regarding financial futures during their Feb. 18 meeting.
The council voted 3-2 to approve a cost of living raise effective in the 2023 term with Coun. Samantha Piper and Coun. Michie Vidal voting against this remuneration option.
Compensation for the mayor and council hasn’t been increased since 2011 and is currently $15, 000 per year for councillors and $30,000 per year for the mayor. According to chief administrative officer Madeline McDonald, the standard recommended compensation for councillors across the province is about 40 per cent of the mayor’s salary, but the village’s stands at 50 per cent. To bring the split to standard, the mayor’s salary would have to rise to $37,500, a 25 per cent raise.
Council was presented with a number of options to tackle the issue – keep everything status quo, raise the salaries according to the increase in cost of living or to hire an expert consultant to assess the issue and make recommendations.
Coun. Ray Hooper said he was happy with the status quo, though he saw the benefit of a cost of living increase.
Coun. Gerry Palmer presented the proposal that would ultimately go to vote. Rather than giving themselves a raise during their term, Palmer suggested passing the raise on to the next council according to the cost of living.
“This conversation is always awkward. We all knew what the rates were [upon election],” Palmer said. “It would be self-serving while sitting on a term giving ourselves a raise. I can’t support that.”
Coun. Vidal was not comfortable declining independent help with the matter.
“I share the concern that the issue is rather difficult,” she said. “I’m not comfortable increasing my remuneration without some independent review and recommendation and I’m not comfortable tying it in to an already-negotiated contract. I feel [hiring an independent contractor] would remove myself and council from the process. A level of transparency is important.”
McDonald estimated hiring a consultant would run the village between $6,000 and $8,000.
In other Council business, after more than 30 minutes of discussion, the council voted 4-1 to move the plan to a second reading; a third reading is needed before it is adopted. Coun. Piper casted the lone dissenting vote. Harrison residents had an opportunity to discuss the plan with village officials earlier that afternoon in an open house setting.
Former councillor Allen Jackson said he was not in the least comfortable with what he saw as the village’s over-reliance on grants and miscellaneous fees such as paid parking to supplement income as well as an uneven divide between business and residential taxes, citing the unpredictable nature of money distribution.
“We don’t know where this economy is going,” Jackson said to the council. “Turn this budget down, send it back to staff and re-look at it because the revenue side is not increasing the way it should.”
According to chief administration officer Madeline McDonald, the tax percentages will be brought to the table once the financial plan is passed. This is legally the way it needs to be to comply with an oddity in provincial law, which McDonald said is an issue they must tackle every year that continues to be problematic.
Council voted 4-1 to adopt bylaws modifying the rules of a number of recreation-related rules, including amended curfew restrictions for the beach. Coun. Piper was once again the dissenting vote.
The council also voted 4-1 to approve the village asset management plan. Coun. Hooper casted the lone dissenting vote.