Letter: Billings council must justify its wage increases

Dear Editor:

I read with interest the December 24 article, ‘Township of Billings council approves council stipend increases,’ in the Recorder. Some pieces of the information in this article are incomplete and I would like to clarify these items. But more importantly, I would like to ask council itself to clarify how its 100 percent increase in base pay and various other payment add-ons are in the public interest at this time.

According to Bylaw 2014-32, the 2014 councillor meeting pay rates quoted in the article are incorrect. In 2014 until 2020, councillors only received $60 per council meeting and $50 per meeting outside of council. The new rates for board/committee meetings have been raised to $75 as reported. Also, the article said that the new base pay rate started on January 1 but failed to mention that the new rate was retroactive to January 1, 2020. In other words, council members received thousands of dollars in retroactive pay in December 2020 before their first cost-of-living raise (which has already happened on January 1, 2021).

How many other hard-working, long-suffering workers have had a chance to vote themselves a 100 percent raise after a tough year? It’s a bold move and a total about face. Back at the all candidates’ meeting in 2018, people voiced their anger against a proposed council pay raise that year. In the face of that public input, candidate Anderson and others said they would happily “volunteer” for their positions. Where are those frugal intentions now?

The question remains: what benefit does the community receive from doubling these payments in the last month of the 2020 fiscal year? Previous councils proposed their increases at the end of their terms and in election years (2018, 2014). Why? Proposing pay increases at the end of a term shows that council members are thinking beyond their self-interests. In that previous practice, the people who would benefit the most from any increase would be the newly elected councillors rather than the sitting councillors. A pay raise could encourage people to run for office, thereby, increasing voters’ choices and resulting in a good election process. Voila, the public benefits!

I invite the current council to outline for the public the benefits of paying for this huge wage increase for three out of the four years of this term and with an election almost two years away. Are you grappling with a huge year-end surplus as a result of this year’s three percent tax increase? Then, please plan to consult with the public on how best to spend any remaining surplus in the interests of the community at large.

Barbara Erskine