Council opts to repeal wage freeze

Duane Hicks

It looks like Fort Frances town council will get a pay raise after all this December after mayor and the majority of council voted to repeal a decision made in the spring to delay an increase in remuneration until December, 2012.
The only one who voted against reversing the decision was Coun. Andrew Hallikas, who said he’s sticking by council’s initial reasoning for putting a wage freeze in place.
“When we first reconsidered this, the rationale for implementing it was that the provincial government was calling for zero percent increases for two years,” he noted.
“The economic situation is not good. I don’t really think it’s changed that much,” he added.
“What we were trying to do was set an example.
“Now, I have to say that I think this council is underpaid and that there should be a raise, but since our rationale was good originally, to me our rationale is still good,” Coun. Hallikas continued.
“I don’t think anything has changed.
“Some of the councillors indicated that nobody followed our example,” Coun. Hallikas noted. “But to me, the example also needs to be set for employees of the corporation and for others in town.
“I think that members of the council should be setting an example that when economic times are tough, we’re going to share in those difficult times with all of our residents.
“We’re all in the same boat together,” he stressed.
While nobody runs for council for the money, Coun. Hallikas admitted the remuneration for council has to be sufficient to attract new blood.
But he also added that the pay freeze was only supposed to be for two years, and if council would have stuck with it, the revised remuneration still would have come into effect mid-term and increased in time for the next election.
Council had agreed back in April to freeze its remuneration at its current level for another two years, in light of a call from the province for the public sector to do so.
Council passed a revised remuneration and travel policy for both town staff and members of council back in January. This would have come into effect for the incoming council on Dec. 1, 2010.
But then at its April 26 meeting, council elected to hold its pay at the same level for another two years.
At that time, Mayor Roy Avis had brought forward a resolution to do so in response to Premier Dalton McGuinty and Finance minister Dwight Duncan’s invitation in March for municipalities to follow the province’s lead in instituting a two-year wage freeze for provincial employees.
But during a special committee of the whole meeting last Thursday, Mayor Avis brought the issue back to the table for reconsideration, noting the province has not kept its own promise regarding the wage freeze and seemingly no other municipalities are following suit, either.
The majority of council agreed at that time, and then voted yesterday evening in favour of preparing a bylaw to make the remuneration changes once again effective Dec. 1, 2010, not Dec. 1, 2012.
The revised policy includes an increase in remuneration to the positions of mayor and council. It recommends the position of mayor be paid $23,000 per year, instead of $22,322 as it is now, while councillor remuneration will go to $12,000 from $10,507.
The deputy mayor also will see a hike from $10,507 to $13,500.
The last time the salary structure was revised was in 2003, at which time the pay for mayor and council actually went down when the benefits package they used to receive was cut—reducing total salaries by about $4,000.
The benefits package continues to be offered as an option council members can buy into at their own expense.
In the revised policy, the benefits package option has remained status quo.
Also at last night’s meeting, which was held a day later due to the Thanksgiving holiday, council:
•authorized three applications to Public Safety Canada under the Joint Emergency Preparedness Program (JEPP) for total funding equalling $102,280 (this is for vehicle replacement, Hazmat equipment, and general emergency response equipment for the Fort Frances Fire and Rescue Service);
•authorized a five-year agreement with Pepsi Cola at the Memorial Sports Centre;
•approved recommendations of the Planning and Development executive committee with regard to community garden indemnification;
•approved an adjustment to aviation fuel pump prices at the Fort Frances Airport (the new pump prices, effective Oct. 13, are set at $1.77 per litre for 100LL while Jet A-1 will be $1.51/litre);
•approved the upgrade of the Provincial Offences Act technology infrastructure as proposed by CARELYNX with an estimated total project cost of $23,000;
•approved an advertisement in the 2011 Vacation Guide Map at a cost of $520 plus applicable taxes;
•received minutes of settlement for Island G669 PCL 22649 (2010);
•approved various travel expenses and per diem claims;
•heard a verbal update on activities from Operations and Facilities manager Doug Brown;
•approved applications for tax adjustment at 535 Lillie Ave. and 322 Third St. W.;
•passed a bylaw to approve an amendment to an agreement with the minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs for financing of a Heritage Tourism Project Phase 2 under the Rural Economic Development Program;
•passed a bylaw to approve an agreement with BMA Management Consulting Inc. for development of an asset management plan; and
•passed a bylaw to approve a memorandum of understanding with the Fort Frances Public Library Board with respect to 601 Reid Ave.