Council to reconsider pay freeze

Duane Hicks

After agreeing back in April to put off a planned increase in pay for the incoming mayor and council this December, town council will vote at it regular meeting next Tuesday whether to reverse that decision.
As previously reported, council elected to freeze its remuneration at its current level for another two years at its April 26 meeting.
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 yesterday, Mayor Avis brought the issue back to the table for reconsideration, noting the province has not kept its own promise regarding the wage freeze.
The mayor said the province has come forward with a recommendation paper which, for example, says a board of health has to stay in the guidelines of the wage freeze but a district social services administration board does not.
“What I have seen the province do has not lived up to the information we were given at that time,” Mayor Avis charged.
“We, as a council, tried to do the right thing,” he noted. “We wanted to do the right thing six or eight months ago.
“Now, like I said, it’s a Mickey Mouse piece of legislation,” the mayor argued. “If you’re going to do it, do it to everybody.
“Don’t start to pick and choose,” he warned, referring to the government’s actions.
Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft said council initially agreed to the province’s suggestion to set an example for other municipalities, and also in the hope that town workers, who at the time were in contract negotiations, would agree to a wage freeze.
This didn’t happen, and given the fact that not one other municipality is following suit, Coun. Wiedenhoeft felt council should reconsider the recommendation of the remuneration review committee initially made back in January.
“We reconsidered the first time to set an example,” noted Coun. Ken Perry. “We set the example for ourselves and nobody else has followed suit, so we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.”
Coun. Sharon Tibbs said council agreed to support the province the first time when the situation seemed “cut and dry,” but now the province’s directive is “so unorganized.”
She was among several members of council who pointed out they are paid less now than their counterparts in the late 1980s and early ’90s due to concessions council has made over the years, like cutting its benefits package.
Coun. Tibbs added council wouldn’t be talking about the pay hike if prior councils had implemented small pay increases along the way.
Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig noted the amount of time and commitment that is required from a councillor or a mayor is “increasing exponentially all the time,” as is the amount of liability placed them.
“I see nothing wrong with what you’re doing at all and I clearly support you looking at this again, for reasons I just stated,” said McCaig.
As previously reported, a revised remuneration and travel policy for both town staff and members of council was approved back in January.
The revised policy included an increase in remuneration to the positions of mayor and council, which were to come into effect Dec. 1, 2010 to coincide with the installation of the 2010-14 council.
It had recommended the position of mayor be paid $23,000 per year, instead of $22,322 as it is now, while councillor remuneration would go to $12,000 from $10,507.
The deputy mayor also would 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.
But Mayor Avis requested at the April 12 council meeting that the decision be reviewed. Then on April 26, council agreed to the wage freeze, which would mean the new council would not get a pay increase until Dec. 1, 2012.
Budget talk
Also at yesterday’s special meeting, council started discussion about user fees for 2011, agreeing that each executive committee (Administration and Finance, Community Services, Planning and Development, and Operations and Facilities) would examine their respective fee schedules line by line.
As part of the process, a 1.7 percent cost of living increase to the various user fees will be used as a starting point to contemplate any potential fee hikes.
However, this does not necessarily mean the fees actually will be increased by that amount by the time the fee schedule is passed.
Mayor Avis was among several members of council who felt user fees only should rise the bare minimum in 2011, but that more emphasis should be put on increasing non-resident user fees to better reflect the fact that residents are supporting local services through both user fees and taxation.
Treasurer Laurie Witherspoon noted the town’s total revenue for 2009 was $21,468,600, and of that $2,138,132 came from user fees.
This represents just under 10 percent of the town’s overall revenues.
Council also agreed that increases to sewer and water rates, particularly to the industrial/commercial/institutional (ICI) sector, will have to be discussed at length in future, as will the topic of whether council wants to implement water meters.