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Odd couple on agenda

There was an odd juxtaposition between two items on Monday’s council agenda. One was about potential full-time status for councillors, and the other was about cutting the number of months when committee meetings and regular month-end council meetings will be held in 2013.
The second item suggested that if council consolidates its meetings in as few as nine months of the year – adding January and July to the already blank August meeting schedule – things could work more efficiently at city hall. There’s flexibility to hold July meetings if needed, and to call special meetings as needed. But the schedule change approved on a 9-3 vote was painted as a way to have council and the rest of city hall work smarter, as opposed to working longer. Certainly sounds worth trying.
Then there was the somewhat strange report on moving toward possibly converting the job of being a ward councillor in Guelph from a part-time to a full-time job – even though the numbers don’t seem to justify such a change. The staff report on this agenda item said Guelph has one councillor for about every 10,200 residents. That’s nowhere near the ratio of councillors to residents found in cities where councillors have full-time status. A 2008 Guelph study of 31 Ontario municipalities with populations over 60,000 found that just eight of them had full-time councillors. In these eight, the ratio of councillors to residents ranged from 22,600 to 60,800.
The staff report noted there’s quite a bit of support on council not only for making  city councillor a full-time job with full-time pay, but also for changing the number of councillors from the current 12. The obvious direction would be toward fewer council members, which would adjust Guelph’s councillor-to-resident ratio.
Guelph council members haven’t done too badly over the past several years. In early 2000, following a decade in which council pay was virtually frozen, the mayor’s base annual salary was $32,451 and councillors’ pay was $11,666. Council voted for hefty raises in 2000 and again in 2003. By January 2011, councillors were making $29,706 a year and the mayor’s pay was $88,984. Benefits have also been enhanced since 2000. No one should complain about this improved compensation, but changing to full-time status and reducing the size of council is another matter. Working smarter would be preferred.

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