A look into remuneration for elected municipal leaders in the Trinity Conception region has revealed a vast disparity in the amounts being paid, and the numbers do not always reflect a town's population or budget.
The two largest towns in the region - Bay Roberts and Carbonear - each pay a combined total of $70,000 to council members, which is by far the highest among the 24 towns contacted by The Compass.
The lowest payout is in New Perlican, at just under $2,000.
But we also discovered the some towns do not pay any remuneration, despite the fact such payments are permitted under the Municipalities Act (see fact box).
In fact, according to the Act, Bay Roberts could be dishing out more cash to its municipal leaders. The town has $136,000 at its disposal, but chooses to use roughly 50 per cent of that.
"It grows as the town grows," said Bay Roberts Mayor Philip Wood.
Within the last decade, dating back to when longtime mayor Wilbur Sparkes wore the chain-of-office, yearly remuneration for the top elected post has grown by about $5,000.
Wood said the town looks at other municipalities with similar populations and budgets when deciding on remuneration.
The mayor pointed out that towns like Deer Lake, Gander, Grand Falls-Windsor, Labrador City, Marystown and Carbonear are all used as yard sticks.
So why do municipal leaders get paid? Because it's "very demanding," according to Wood.
When he spoke with The Compass, Wood painted a picture of moving from one public event to another, mixing in council business and his private life.
Mayors are often called upon to attend public functions and meetings, cut ribbons and give speeches. They are also often the first point-of-contact for residents with concerns or questions. Media interviews are also part of the job.
Wood, a retired educator, said his days are often dominated by municipal issues and commitments. He is also heavily involved with the Royal Canadian Legion.
"It's very time consuming," said Wood. "Mayors work for their remuneration and you have to enjoy it."
The curious case of Bay de Verde
Bay de Verde Mayor Gerard Murphy was not aware of remuneration when he got involved in municipal politics. Being paid for his services never crossed his mind then, and it still does not now.
"I'm about providing for the people, listening to their concerns and contributing to the community," said Murphy.
In his role as mayor, the Cabot Academy principal feels there is no issue "that is too trivial" for his attention. Some days, Murphy could be dealing with issues late into the evening. He does it because he loves working for the people of his community.
"If remuneration wasn't there, I'd still be there," he said.
Murphy expressed delight that The Compass was shining a spotlight on remuneration, adding he believes strongly in transparency.
There's no hiding the fact that Murphy, on a per capita basis, is arguably one of the highest paid small-town mayors in the province. There are less than 400 residents in Bay de Verde, yet Murphy is paid a yearly stipend of $2,500, which is greater than some mayors in larger towns.
It's a similar situation in nearby Old Perlican, where Mayor Harry Strong makes $4,000 in a town with some 661 citizens.
By comparison, South River Mayor Arthur Petten is paid $2,000 (population just under 700), Brigus Mayor Byron Rodway is paid $2,300 (population of 750) and Cupids Mayor Ron Laracy receives $1,600 (population 761).
What sets Bay de Verde and Old Perlican apart? Substantial annual operating budgets that exceed $1 million, fattened by taxes from a bustling seafood processing sector in the towns.
Budgeting for the two per cent it is allowed by the Municipalities Act, Bay de Verde is allowed to take up to nearly $28,000, but the total falls well short of that.
Murphy said any extra money from remuneration is used to cover the cost of councillors going to conferences and other forms of training/correspondence.
Taking nothing, giving everything
At the complete opposite end of the spectrum is The Town of Whitbourne, where municipal leaders literally give freely of their time.
The budget for remuneration? Zero.
Whitbourne is widely regarded as a community on the rise, with a population nearing the 1,000 mark and a budget closing in on $1 million.
The town can allot up to three per cent for remuneration, or nearly $29,000.
"We just don't do it," said Whitbourne Mayor Lloyd Gosse.
There was a time when council claimed remuneration, but "there has not been a call for it, and it's working," Gosse said.
Gosse recognizes there may come a time when it will be looked at, but for now "council is not pushing it."