An important issue looming prior to the October municipal election is whether Brandon is ready for full-time city councillors. Some say this is an absolute necessity — I emphatically state full-time councillors are a luxury we simply cannot afford.
The logic behind full-time councillors seems to simply be that our community has grown to a point whereby we need these elected officials to help guide the city every day through their oversight and management skills. Perhaps that is an accurate assessment of our community, but I don’t think so.
There are several elements of this issue to consider including costs and benefits, but most importantly, whether our city taxpayers would do better under this scheme than the existing structure.
Many of the proponents of the full-time idea suggest that we would have fewer councillors — say five, rather than the current 10. Each of our current councillors is paid approximately $18,000. (There are additional costs associated with council positions, but let’s not micromanage too aggressively.)
I assume that full-time councillors would expect to be paid salaries commensurate with their positions, let’s say $50,000 annually. (Some of it may be taxable and some tax-free, but that’s more of an issue for the candidates as opposed to the public.) We would need new offices, support staff, benefits, etc. Again, let’s not micromanage, but I think it’s fair to assume these associated costs would be significantly higher than with part-time councillors. In any case, let’s just focus on wages.
Five councillors at $50,000 is obviously more expensive than 10 at $18,000. There are no cost savings to the public — and in fact, a small increase. Again, this does not address the expected added costs for support, office space, benefits, pensions and more.
If we had full-time councillors, how would their jobs differ from the current structure? I suppose their attention would be fully focused on important issues and committees as opposed to their external lives and jobs. I think we should expect that today. We are, after all, paying them to do a job they openly sought.
I’ve heard several councillors complain about their current amount of committee work. I apologize for my lack of empathy, but I shed few tears for people who actively campaigned for a job and got exactly what they wanted. Given the number who are once again running for city council, I fail to see the committee work holding them back. As it stands, of the 10 councillors currently serving, only three have indicated that they will not be returning. The work mustn’t be that prohibitive.
We already have a professional staff in place at city hall. So would these elected junior bureaucrats add additional value to taxpayers, or would they simply get underfoot? My sense, and it’s just a sense, is that the current structure of passing concerns to the city manager and allowing him to manage things is more efficient than the proposed idea. I don’t think we need to replicate the work being done by our city staff or to confuse issues further.
Adding professional councillors would add a level of bureaucracy while providing little benefit to taxpayers. Winnipeg’s return to full-time councillors several years ago has not been the cost-savings panacea proponents predicted. Some argue it has been rather disastrous for our provincial capital.
In my experience, while I have concerns about several of the councillors in regards to their understanding and performance on budgets and other fiscal matters, I remain very impressed by many in regards to the job they perform as community servants.
Any time I have had concerns about bothersome issues like garbage collection or snow removal, these matters have been dealt with expeditiously. Special praise is owed to outgoing Coun. Murray Blight (Victoria) and current councillors Jeff Fawcett (Assiniboine) and John LoRegio (Meadows) who work diligently on ward issues.
Ultimately, I don’t see the need for another level of full-time politicians who would simply get in the way. I much prefer today’s model of committed citizens who want to make a difference and are paid a stipend to do so. This only works, however, when councillors receive the information they need to make informed decisions.
In other words, this isn’t the debate we should be having. We should really be talking about what our part-time councillors need to be more effective.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 29, 2014