Maple Ridge is considering enlarging the size of its city council from seven to nine members, including the mayor’s seat.
With a current population of about 85,000, the move is long overdue since Maple Ridge passed the benchmark population of 50,000 residents required for the larger size council several years ago
But my, oh, my. How we’ve grown in a few short years, from four councillors and a reeve to contemplation of a nine-member body, including the mayor.
The old system was based on Maple Ridge being divided into four wards, each represented by its own councillor. It worked quite well as the councillors would reasonably support the projects of councilors representing other wards in order to have that same support for their own proposals.
I’m not sure of the exact date, but I believe it was circa 1950 when Maple Ridge moved to seven members, including the reeve and six councillors.
The ward system was abandoned at the same time and the population stood at about 8,000 or 9,000 people.
Again, I’m not sure of the pay for councillors or the reeve in those golden days, but I am sure it wouldn’t even begin to pay the income tax on current council and mayoralty indemnities.
Eventually, Maple Ridge switched titles from reeve to mayor and from councillor to alderman and, of course, began a long, steady climb in indemnities to current levels.
When I was elected to council in November 1977, each alderman was paid $4,800 annually, and when I left council six years later, the indemnity for aldermen had risen to $10,800 annually.
The mayor normally received about three times the pay of a council member because the mayor’s job was becoming full-time, while aldermen, regardless of what they told the public, probably spent about 20 hours per week on their council duties.
A few years ago, for some murky reason Maple Ridge switched back from the title alderman to councillor, but the mayor’s title remained unchanged.
Over the years prior to my election, Ottawa had decided that the indemnities for local elected officials should be one-third tax exempt, a rule which still applies so the real bottom line indemnity for the mayor or councillors is actually somewhat greater than stated, depending on their individual tax brackets.
Although the remuneration for council members has increased dramatically over the years, the essence of why city councils even exist hasn’t changed very much.
The volume and complexity for some issues has grown dramatically, but the underlying objectives remain relatively unchanged.
Unlike senior levels of government, unless they purchase it at their own expense, elected civic officials have no pensions.
Even if you serve for 20 years or more, you won’t even receive a gold watch in thanks.
The best you can hope for is the inner knowledge that you did your best without special consideration or favour.
Any councillor or mayor who is doing their due diligence on council business is probably spending more hours per week on their council duties than if they held a normal 40-hours-per-week job. In other words, once elected, councilors and the mayor have full-time jobs.
Of course, there is always criticism of how any elected official is performing (or not), but the indemnities and other issues affecting elected officials are set for the positions, not the individuals holding those positions.
Maple Ridge is facing some of the most expensive and challenging issues in its history.
A nine-member council could enrich the discussions and decisions flowing from those increasing demands.
Based on current indemnities, adding two more positions to Maple Ridge council would add less than $100,000 per year to the city’s costs.
It sounds like a bargain to me.
Sandy Macdougall is a retired journalist and former city councillor.