By Pam Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter – The Chatham Voice
Chatham-Kent’s next council – to be determined in this fall’s election – will see an increase in pay when they take the oath of office.
At its Feb. 7 meeting, council voted 10 to 8 to raise the annual honorarium for its 17 councillors by $2,937 to $36,900.
The yes vote included West Kent Coun. Melissa Harrigan; South Kent representatives Trevor Thompson and Clare Latimer; Wallaceburg councillors Carmen McGregor and Aaron Hall; Chatham’s Brock McGregor, Marjorie Crew and Karen Kirkwood-Whyte; North Kent Coun. Joe Faas and Mayor Darrin Canniff.
On the no side were Chatham councillors Mike Bondy, Doug Sulman and Amy Finn; East Kent councillors Steve Pinsonneault and John Wright; North Kent representative Jamie McGrail, West Kent’s Mark Authier; and Anthony Ceccacci, councillor for South Kent.
The vote followed a detailed presentation made by a volunteer citizen’s review committee comprised of Chatham and District Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Gail Hundt, Derek McGivern, president of D.C. McGivern Associates and former Chatham-Kent councillor Bill Weaver.
Three municipal administrators provided support as well.
The report compared Chatham-Kent council honorariums to 12 other municipalities, including Essex and Lambton counties. It recommended increases be made across-the-board to keep Chatham-Kent current with other municipalities, as well as providing incentive for people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to run for council.
Hundt told the meeting it’s a very difficult decision for elected officials raise the honorarium as they are “looking at themselves.”
However, Hundt said council is making a decision to compensate “councils of the future.”
While some of the councillors voiced support for the increase, others didn’t see it that way.
Bondy said it didn’t seem right for council to raise the honorarium only five days after raising taxes 2.79 per cent.
“I don’t really understand how this pay raise – because frankly that’s what it is – is for the next council,” Bondy said, adding the decision should be made after the election.
“I really don’t think this is the appropriate time,” Bondy said, “considering how many people are struggling.”
Faas said he supported the increase, because councils of the past have had to play catch-up.
Both Hall and Ceccacci said it’s a decision that should be made by the current council.
Both said it puts a new council in an awkward position if they have to make a decision on the honorarium early in their term.
Pinsonneault said he couldn’t support an increase as so many people “are struggling with their day-to-day expenses.”
Kirkwood-Whyte advised councillors that if they didn’t feel right taking the money, they can donate it to a charity of their choice.
Harrigan who put the motion to approve the report forward, said that one of the conversations that’s muted in public service is the mental health and well being of members of council, citing communication from the public that needs to be taken “with a grain of salt.”
The money for health-care supports acknowledges this, Harrigan added, noting “we can’t be good leaders if we are not healthy and well ourselves.”
Elected officials will now receive a $1,200 annual allowance to be used for health-care needs, such as insurance, physical therapy or counselling.
Mayor Darrin Canniff will also see a boost to the mayor’s training allowance, up 2,043 to $5,000 a year – even though he himself voted against it. The motion was approved in a 13-5 vote.
However, the mayor’s annual wage will stay the same at $116,747.
The combined increases will add $79,688 to the 2023 base budget. The combined councillor honorarium totals $54,324 while the combined health-care allowance equals $24,321.
Councillors voted 12 to 6 in favour of the health-care spending.