By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
One councillor’s change of heart has sunk – for now – the phase-in of a very large raise for Cobourg council at this week’s meeting.
For Councillor Adam Bureau, the change came as a result of what he believes his true job to be – listening to the people, including at a protest Sunday that drew several dozen people who wanted to share their feelings on Cobourg council’s intention to phase in the raise Bryan Lambert suggested to council earlier this month.
No raise had been contemplated until Lambert’s presentation very late in the budget-deliberation process suggesting they deserved more. His figures indicated a 43% raise for the mayor, a 67% raise for deputy mayor and a 75% raise for each councillor. Council accepted the suggestion but opted to phase in the raise starting this year.
A review of compensation was already in the cards for year three of this term, but the debate came up over the bylaw that would have changed the review schedule.
“Year three is the best way to do this,” Bureau insisted.
“I might be called a flip-flopper – I will take whatever it is, because I have taken a lot of flack for supporting this motion in the first place.
“My job is, first and foremost, to listen to the Cobourg citizens and not my opinion.
“I did not run in this election to give myself a raise in the first budget cycle.”
Councillor Miriam Mutton said she’d heard different.
“I have been stopped on the street to say 100% support,” Mutton said.
“I think it would be inaccurate to suggest that it’s a raise. It’s a correction.”
She allowed that there is a lot of misinformation circulating about the move, and hoped there might be a way of helping people to understand.
Mayor Lucas Cleveland questioned Councillor Brian Darling, who had voted against the raise previously, to see if he remained opposed.
“I do agree there could be a correction in council remuneration. We have discussed it every year, in the third year of the term,” Darling said.
“At this time, I don’t think giving ourselves a raise in the first three months of a term is at all right.”
“I do believe that our council pay is not where it should be, let me make that clear,” Bureau added.
“But I do think this is the wrong time to do it. In year three or year two, maybe that’s when it should be. But at this point in time, I don’t think it’s the right move.”
Councillor Randy Barber asked staff if the raise could be voted in and then refused by councillors if they were truly opposed to it.
Barber said he too had discussed the raise with citizens.
“In my experience speaking with many business people, the fact that our remuneration is what it is – they wonder why we would do the job,” he said. “Like all of you, I knew what the wage was, and I certainly ran for the job knowing what the wage was. But it comes down to business, folks. It comes down to the fairness of it all.
“We all know how hard that we work, how many hours are involved, the kind of things we have to do.”
Barber acknowledged that it would be an unpopular decision for some.
“But on a long-term basis, there’s an opportunity here to right an obvious wrong. I happen to say now is the time to do it. Now is the time to move forward.”
“I’m perhaps showing my lack of political experience, but it’s never the wrong time to do the right thing,” Mayor Lucas Cleveland added.
“I actually said this during my campaign – one of the first things I would do is right the wrong that has been passed down from council to council.”
Cleveland railed at what he called the absurdity of a $20,000 budget item occasioning such outrage when hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of other items did not spur that much comment.
Deputy Mayor Nicole Beatty objected to Cleveland’s terming such items “random spending.”
“I think any raise to an elected official three months into our term is random spending,” Beatty retorted.
Beatty had asked for a recorded vote. She was joined in opposing the bylaw by Bureau, Darling and Councillor Aaron Burchat.
This vote came after council had approved the budget that contained $23,115 to get the phase-in started. Beatty asked what would happen to that money, and Director of Finance Ian Davey said it would be handled much as if a staff hire had been contemplated and budgeted for, but then not acted on. In such a case, the budgeted amount is transferred to the Tax Rate Stabilization Reserve.
For now, salaries remain at $45,412 for Cleveland, $31,082 for Beatty and $25,963 for each councillor. They will also receive CPI as of July 1. For all members of council, this comes to a total of $14,442.