Councillors are working more, so they deserve a pay raise.
That was the message from Councillor Keith McGrath in an appearance on Fort McMurray Matters Tuesday. The Ward 1 representative defended a section of the Wood Buffalo Recovery Committee bylaw that would see part-time councillor salaries increase by 108% and those moving to full-time by 317%.
McGrath noted that when elected, councillors thought they were committing to 20-25 hours a week of work. Now those who are beginning work on the recovery committee, including himself, are putting in 80-90 hours.
“At the end of the day we have to provide for our families,” McGrath said.
Third reading of the bylaw was held up last week by Mayor Melissa Blake and Councillor Jane Stroud. While Blake wanted more time to look at amendments McGrath had made, Stroud was concerned about the pay increases involved.
She noted that in her research, neither High River or Slave Lake’s councils raised their salaries after natural disasters.
“We were all aware of what our remuneration, and the hours required, going into our elected position,” she said. “I just can’t support this.”
The pay increases would bump McGrath, Allan Vinni, and Sheldon Germain to full-time salaries of $150,000 throughout the existence of the recovery committee. As first reported by Fort McMurray Today, the increase would make them the highest-paid councillors in Canada.
But McGrath says that makes sense.
“There’s not a councillor in this country that has the pressure from citizens we have today,” he said. “And we have the highest paid this, and that, simply because we have the highest cost of living.”
The councillor did point out that one of his amendments last week would allow their outside employers to continue paying their salaries if they wish. Councillors drawing outside salaries wouldn’t benefit from the pay rise.
Mayor Blake’s salary would also see an increase under the bylaw, going from $123,000 to $150,000, on the same level as the committee councillors. She told reporters Monday night that she wasn’t overly supportive of a pay increase, adding that she’s happy with her current level of pay.
Council can still amend the bylaw during third reading Tuesday night. Councillor Tyran Ault suggested on Fort McMurray Matters on Friday that it may have been a better idea to address the pay concern in a separate motion in order to move the committee forward.
Council meets at 6 p.m.