The new regional council must quickly reverse the drain on profits

It was an unjustifiable decision under any circumstances, but regional councilors looking to give themselves the parting gift of lifetime benefits also took the cake for brazen public disregard.

The attempt to extend current benefits — life insurance, health care coverage, dental and out-of-province coverage — to outgoing advisors for life was flawed in tone, timing and transparency.

The effort is likely to be reversed, but the true colors of some of them have already been exposed.

While on regional council, elected officials receive extended benefits paid entirely by taxpayers ranging from $2,400 per year for a single person to $6,720 for a family plan. Like employees, they have the option of continuing the plan after leaving the board, but at their own expense.

The benefits paid are a benefit that already exceeds what many workers in the private sector enjoy. Many have no benefits, and most of those with workplace plans pay some of the premiums themselves, as employer contributions can be as low as 25%.

The plan would be available to any councilor who has served at least one four-year term at age 55.

In a late addition to the agenda of a Nov. 8 meeting, the idea of ​​extending these taxpayer-funded benefits for life was quickly embraced by a majority of councillors. The vote was 9 to 7, and two of those who voted in favor have since changed their minds. The public should bear in mind that the biggest push has come from council members not returning for the next session.

The fact that the decision was made without even an attempt at transparency was an immediate red flag. Typically, councilors seeking a raise, for example, go through a public process with a citizen-led committee that provides at least the veneer of accountability. Additionally, raises are usually applied to the next term of the board, giving the public a chance to literally vote on the issue: excessive raises could be reversed by electing someone else to take the chair.

This format means that current councilors will not necessarily benefit from the changes, as they may not seek re-election or win on the next trip to the polls.

With the sudden generosity after the October election and before the end of the mandate, the councilors offered a beautiful goodbye. This was especially true for those who will not return for the next session. Unsurprisingly, they were among the most vocal in support of the idea.

Last week’s meeting was also telling in its tone, as proponents of continued taxpayer support cast themselves as underappreciated, overworked and underpaid. Law is the word that comes to mind. It is a word that does not suggest public service and sacrifice for the general good. On the contrary, it conjures up images of royalty and privilege, people who seem to feel that everyone owes them something.

In real terms, the money paid to advisors is a small part of the overall budget. Nor are they massively overpaid for what they do. The money they receive is essentially a retribution. It’s not a job per se – it’s supposed to be a public vocation for which they receive a stipend. Yet they have to lead by example, and that will mean very modest freezes or increases, consistent with what we have seen in the private sector.

The fact that some councilors have been asking the public for more at a time when the region is floating trial balloons over double-digit tax increases due to inflation makes the moment even worse.

At a time when the regional council must lobby for internal spending cuts to limit tax increases, self-serving councilors are losing credibility. There is no moral height at the trough.

Elna M. Lemons