Online comments criticize city council’s pay raise

TN CityHallWages StevensonCalgary city council’s salary raise on Jan. 1 has been met with an onslaught of negative response from social media commentators.

Calgary’s city council received an automatic increase to their salary by 0.88 per cent at the beginning of 2016, bringing the councillors’ salaries to $116,313 and the mayor’s salary to $218,285. In the previous year the salary increase was 3.8 per cent.

The Calgary Herald received critical online comments. Pauline Scott wrote, “Well is that just wonderful for them when everyone is taking pay cuts or losing their jobs.”

Cory Morgan echoed Scott’s concerns. “Yeah, all those record property tax increases went to a good cause. While 100,000 Albertan's lose their jobs, Nenshi (Canada's highest paid mayor) gets a raise.”

CBC online also heard from disgruntled readers, with a user identified as “Jell Oh” writing: “Economic uncertainty is on everyone's mind and yet our city council decides they deserve a raise. A raise when its 4 years of tax increases and 4 more years of increases ahead. This city council has to go spend, spend, spend. No fiscal responsibility, no budgeting just increase user fees and increase taxes.”

Another gathering place for discontent was Reddit, with user “JeromyYYC” writing: “My problem is that Council embraces independent commissions when it benefits them, and reject those that stand to hurt them. Council would be much wiser to give up the annual increases and simply review occasionally — ideally, every four years when elections are held. Why should they expect annual increases above and beyond what they signed up for?”

Amber Ruddy, the Alberta director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said that the CFIB understands why the comments are mostly unfavourable.

BC1 CityHallWages RuddyAmber Ruddy, Alberta director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said that the city council should reject increased salary during hard economic times. Photo courtesy of Amber Ruddy“It’s completely unacceptable that the council would get a pay raise in today’s business climate,” Ruddy said. “We also had a 3.5 per cent property tax hike on the table. With the salaries going up, it’s simply not reasonable for them to take these salaries as an automatic thing.”

Patty Orr, who is an administrator for the City of Calgary’s 12 councillors, said in an email that a citizen committee, the Council Compensation Review Committee, determines councillors’ salaries. She added the councillors are not involved in the process.

The adjustment is based on a Statistics Canada report, which considers the average weekly earnings of Albertans over a 12-month period, Orr said, and any change occurs automatically on Jan. 1 of each year.

Established in 2003, the committee of citizens — instead of elected officials — was created to ensure there would be a transparent review process to set the councillors’ compensation.

Calgary citizens can apply for a position on the review committee through submission of an application, with city council responsible for reviewing the applications.

Jim Stevenson, the Calgary city councillor for Ward 3, said that that allowing someone else to determine the city council’s salary adjustment makes more sense than allowing the council to decide.

“The problem is, provincially or federally, they don’t have the same setup as we do. So they vote on their own pay increases, they vote to increase it or they vote to add various perks,” Stevenson said. "But they do it themselves. I’ve always said that isn’t right. There should be somebody outside determining what a fair wage is. There could be different ways we could tie it to other measures, but the average Alberta wage increase or decrease I think is a good way to tie it in.”

Before he was councillor, Stevenson said he also thought that city councillors made too much money. But when he became a councillor, Stevenson said he came to realize that it is a job with a lot of responsibility, representing 104,000 people in his ward alone, and that the pay was appropriate for the job.

With the economy being in a downturn, Stevenson said that there is a good chance that the salary adjustment will swing in the other direction in the upcoming year.

“We had a downturn in 2008, in 2009 we didn’t get much of an increase, but it was tied to the average wage,” Stevenson said. “So, this year in 2016 when they do the average wage for 2017, it is quite likely it will be a downturn and so we have to accept that too. I hope somebody on council doesn’t motion to say that we are going to take an increase, even though it’s the indication that it should be decreased.”

Amber Ruddy said that the Canadian Federation of Independent Business will be raising awareness of the salary adjustment issue to the general public, and she also said that it will encourage the government to implement a pay/hiring freeze “because the city wages, salaries and benefits make up 45 per cent of the overall budget," and that a freeze would create more sustainability and savings.

Thumbnail photo by Kyle Pura

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