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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Paycheques and parking for part-time councillors

Being a councillor carries with it some pains and penalties, but also a few perks and priviledges. Are they enough?

On today’s Finance and Administration Committee agenda are a couple of items pertaining to the pains and privileges of being a councillor.

First up (well, actually second on the agenda) is an enquiry by unnamed councillors about getting preferred parking in the basement under City Hall as opposed to the first-come first-served hourly parking in the adjacent garage operated by Impark. The complete report can be found here.

I must admit that after a couple of months on Council, I took for granted the reserved heated parking spot I had at City Hall. The mayor and all controllers received this privilege as did some of the senior administrators. I had no idea that how costly this perk was although, in all fairness, I spent a lot of time at City Hall and used that privilege in the interests of the City.

The rest of council was relegated to the general hourly parking on a pay-as-you-go basis although the cost of that parking is covered by the taxpayer. Since the position of councillor is considered to be a part-time job and most councillors have other professional responsibilities, many councillors use the parking building only when there are specific meetings to attend once or twice a week. The average monthly cost of that parking for each of 14 councillors would be $35 per month or less than $6,000 annually. To house the same number in the reserved exclusive area would cost the taxpayers more than $15,000 per year.

As well, the spaces so occupied would be vacant much of the time while the current senior management staff who come to work at 8 a.m. and are often there until late in the evening would be taking up valuable spaces that could be made available to the occasional short-term visitor to City Hall.

Free parking is a nice perk if you can get it and many professionals and business persons do. Many others, however, pay dearly for this. And how annoyed do people get when they note that parking has been reserved for someone who rarely uses it?

The second issue is the issue of pay. The Council Compensation Review Task Force, despite assumptions to the contrary, recommended no increase to the current remuneration for members of Council, and that future increases be limited to the cost of living and that no increases be given while non-union staff salaries are frozen. The Task Force found that, except for the municipalities of Toronto, Ottawa and Hamilton, London’s compensation seems to be line with other single tier municipalities.

The Task Force also recommended that the one-third tax emption be retained. This means that one third of the stipend is tax exempt, making the $31,000 worth about $39,000. Although it is not popular with taxpayers, it actually saves the municipality, and therefore the taxpayer, money. One disadvantage from a councillor’s point of view (especially those who consider themselves “fulltime”) is that it reduces their ultimate pensions.

One new councillor who believes that it is ludicrous to think that serving on Council is less than a full-time job is Ward 9’s Dale Henderson. According to the story in the London Free Press, Henderson thinks that “This is a part-time job that turned out to be 60 hours a week.” Personally, I got away with about 42 hours once I found my stride. But even at that, I undertook projects and attended events because I wanted to, not because I had to. You just learn to work smarter, read faster, and ask somebody who knows.

Henderson wants the taxpayers to allocate $10,000 to each councillor for a part-time assistant to help with the workload which he believes has increased because of the loss of Board of Control.

Personally, I don’t see it. The meetings I have attended at City Hall to date have been shorter than they were when I was on Council and less work is being duplicated.

There has been a shortage of administrative assistance due to vacancy management in the Councillors’ offices. That’s a fancy way of saying that the senior person, Vilia Zoccano, retired at end of the last term of Council and the City is saving money by not be filling her position for another week or so.

But that is what has been asked of all City departments and boards, commissions and agencies. Surely the Councillors who supported this should be prepared to do likewise.

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