Windsor councilors elected this October will be paid about $5,000 more than those currently in office following a city hall decision to approve a pay hike.
In a split vote Monday, council opted to move ahead with a pay increase recommended by the citizens committee charged with exploring council compensation.
Following its six-month review, the three-person group recommended that city councilors’ salaries rise to $52,000 effective next term. No need for a mayoral pay raise was identified, but both the mayor and councilors will continue to receive annual increases reflecting raises given to the city’s non-union managerial staff.
The increase was suggested to, in part, attract a diverse candidate group for the part-time council seats that councilors told the committee demand full-time hours. But not everyone agreed with the bump in pay.
Ward 6 Coun. Jo-Anne Gignac, who said she wasn’t prepared to tell the community councilors needed a raise, put forward a motion that council receive the committee’s report as information without implementing any of its recommended pay increase.
“Don’t get me wrong. Sitting as a city councilor means your time is not your own, and your family’s time is not their own,” said Gignac, adding councilors are available to the public seven days a week. “But sitting as a council member is a community service — people are not there because of the compensation.”
If council wants to consider switching the job to full-time, a jump in compensation would be expected, she said. “But I believe we are being compensated fairly.”
Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens supported Gignac’s motion to move ahead without the pay hike. He noted that the committee found Windsor councilors are already paid about $6,000 more than the median wage for part-time councilors from eight comparator municipalities.
“This is not sitting well with me when I look at this, and I don’t think it’s going to sit well with the majority of Windsorites,” Dilkens said.
“I think this is really a dangerous situation for council to give themselves this type of raise, starting in the next term.”
While councilors Jeewen Gill and Ed Sleiman also supported Gignac’s motion, councilors Rino Bortolin, Fabio Costante, Jim Morrison, Kieran McKenzie, Gary Kaschak, and Chris Holt were opposed, defeating the motion.
Coun. Fred Francis, whose wife works with two of the committee members at the University of Windsor, declared a conflict of interest and abstained from the vote.
Bortolin put forward a subsequent motion that council adopt the committee’s five recommendations, which included the salary bump with no changes to benefits and another review of council compensation midway through the 2023-2026 council term. That motion carried.
“Nobody around this table is going to vote in favor because that $5,000 will make such a huge difference,” Bortolin said. “What the committee has come back with is actually incredibly fair, I think.”
The comparator municipalities with lower wages for councilors also have smaller population sizes, resulting in fewer boards and committees associated with the job, he said.
“But when it comes right down to it, it’s just respecting the work of the committee.”
Holt, who works full time for Ford Motor Company, equated the job to becoming a father for the first time, stating, “you have no clue how much time it’s going to take out of your daily routine” to do. He’s had to take “a lot of time” off from his full-time job to perform council duties, and he’d like to see young people and single mothers, for example, able to run municipally.
“I want the community that I live in represented around the council table, and I don’t think we’re there yet,” Holt said in support of the raise. “I don’t want to see a $5,000 increase to the pay for a city councilor to be stopping our quality representation around this council table.”
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McKenzie, who also supported Bortolin’s motion, said that while current council members are “very talented folks,” there are “people missing” from the table. He’s spoken to a number of people who “would be incredible assets to the city” but “just aren’t able to consider this type of work because the level compensation isn’t there for them to be able to support their family.”
This is the second consecutive citizens committee to conclude the largest and council compensation should rise annually. In 2018, another citizens committee grappled with raising compensation for the first time since 2003 while also taking into account the impact of the federal government eliminating the tax-free allowance on one-third of council pay, and simplifying a system that paid councilors and the higher base salaries, plus extra money for sitting on various boards and committees.
The resulting change for the incoming council that year was a base salary of about $195,000 for the mayor and $45,000 for councillors, no matter what committees they were assigned. While the major ended up with a $29,000 raise, his take-home from him actually dropped because of a tax hit. For councillors, their $6,100 raise was largely offset by a $4,000 tax hit.