By Jenna Cocullo
Chatham-Kent residents footed the bill for council’s salary increases in 2019, costing taxpayers an additional $150,248.
City council, including the mayor, received a $103,900 collective bump after deciding to make changes following a decision by the federal government in January 2017 to cancel a long-standing tax exemption that allowed a number of municipal staff to write off a third of their salary.
An additional $46,300 went toward honorarium-related benefits, money that goes toward the cost of Canada Pension (CPP) and Employer Health Tax (EHT).
“I think it very much should have stayed on the federal government side of things and left alone. It would have been better for the taxpayers,” South Kent Coun. Trevor Thompson said.
Last year, each councillor were paid $32,346, up from $27,519 the previous year, according to the municipality’s 2019 statement of remuneration and expenses. Mayor Darrin Caniff made $111,319 in 2019, while his predecessor, Randy Hope, was paid $81,921 for 11 months as mayor in 2018.
Thompson said while some people view the increase as a raise, at the end of the week, councillors are taking home the same pay.
Taxpayers spent an additional $24,341 compared to 2018, on allowances for travel, training and car expenses, for a total of $53,715. Chatham Coun. Marjorie Crew declared the least, with only $72.
Councillors Joes Faas (North Kent), Karen Kirkwood-Whyte (Chatham) and Carmen McGregor (Wallaceburg) all declared more than $5,000 for the year.
Faas, who is chairman of the Board of Health and the Conservation Authority, said his positions took him to several conferences last year, and McGregor travelled back and forth to Toronto in her role as president of the Association of Local Public Health Agencies (alTHa) to meet with the province.
Kirkwood-Whyte, who is one of three retired individuals who sit on council, said she took full advantage of her free time to meet with local businesses beyond Ward 6.
“I took advantage of every single opportunity that I could and educated myself on being a great councillor and making great decisions. Sometimes there’s a cost associated with that. I fully intend to keep the pace up and thoroughly enjoy the opportunity, because I have an opportunity unlike other councillors who work full time,” she said.
Kirkwood-Whyte said she also had the highest expenses ($5,957) because she attended many conferences and networking events to learn about legislation and “how things work to make communities better.”
The report will be reviewed by council at its March 23 meeting.