Region says no to property tax rebates, yes to massive salary increases for staff

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Though seemingly able to afford millions in salary increases year over year, Niagara Regional Council pushed off a proposal by Regional Councillor Bob Gale to give some money back to taxpayers in the form of a $240 rebate. Photo credit: The Niagara Independent

 

The 2021 Sunshine List came out last week and Niagara Regional Council gave several of its top bureaucrats hefty pay increases.

The Region of Niagara’s acting Chief Medical Officer of Health (MOH) Dr. Mustafa Hirji, for example, earned $450,420.17 in 2021, a raise of $153,351.28 compared to 2020.

The Region of Niagara’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Ron Tripp earned $313,001.55 in 2021, an increase of $81,520.48 compared to 2020.

In contrast, the City of Toronto, with a population of 2.8 million, only paid its MOH Dr. Eileen DeVilla $321,835.53. While the City of Mississauga, with a municipal population of 718,000, paid its CAO Paul Mitcham $284,855.50.

Tax rebate referred 

Given its ability to provide millions in salary increases year over year, last week Niagara Falls Regional Councillor Bob Gale asked the municipality to give some money back to struggling homeowners. He proposed $240 to be rebated back to residents rather than direct budget surpluses into regional bank accounts.

But when Gale tabled his motion, Regional Chair Jim Bradley immediately recognized St. Catharines Regional Councillor Kelly Edgar, who voted to refer Gale’s property tax rebate back to staff for a report. He provided no details on what should be in the report, no instructions on which committee should receive the report, and no date on when the report should be due. In essence, the councillor infinitely delayed the report via procedural maneuvers.

When Gale attempted to request a timeframe, Edgar convinced Regional Chair Jim Bradley that no timeline was necessary, stating, “This is a motion to refer; it’s not debatable for time, it’s not debatable at all.”

After consulting the regional clerk, Bradley dismissed Gale’s questions.

When contacted by The Niagara Independent, Gale commented, “They broke the rules.  Edgar’s explanation of the rules was incorrect.” 

“The rules specifically say that a referral motion shall specify the Committee or other body to whom the matter is being referred and may contain instructions from Council. The instructions can include a timeframe.”

Edgar and Bradley’s move enraged St. Catharines Regional Councillor Tim Rigby. He challenged Bradley’s immediate recognition of Edgar and said it was out of order. Rigby explained, “I pushed the button, and my hand went up, just as Councillor Gale started his review and the list in front of me, I was first to be spoken.”

Bradley insisted he saw Edgar first, thereby ending any comments from Rigby. Also scheduled to speak were Councillors Leanna Villella, Peter Nicholson, Marv Junkin, and Wayne Fertich. All of whom lost the opportunity to speak because of Edgar’s referral. 

Taxpayers lose again

In the past six months, Regional Council has raised property taxes, increased user fees, and awarded hefty pay hikes to senior staff. This included a $150,000 pay increase to Dr. Hirji and a $80,000 increase to CAO Ron Tripp over a one-year period.

At the same time, on the advice of staff, Regional Council banked millions of dollars of unspent taxes into the Region’s bank accounts.

And when Councillor Gale attempted to give some money back to taxpayers, Edgar, Bradley, and several members of Council thwarted his proposal. 

“I guess the taxpayers lose again,” declared Gale, when Regional Council referred his motion into the bureaucratic abyss.

Only 10 councillors voted in favour of debating the motion, instead of referring it to staff: Gale, Rigby, Dave Bylsma, George Darte, Wayne Fertich, Marv Junkin, Peter Nicholson, Leanna Villella, Tim Whalen, and Gary Zalepa. 

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