Councillors call on colleagues to freeze pay rate
Elected officials must ‘lead by example,’ show fiscal restraint: Sutherland, Farkas
Two Calgary councillors are calling on their colleagues to freeze their pay rate for the upcoming year.
Councillors Ward Sutherland and Jeromy Farkas are pitching separate proposals seeking to ensure council members don’t receive an automatic pay increase expected in January.
Farkas was the first to announce his proposal in a news release early Wednesday morning. An irkedsounding Sutherland tweeted out his own proposal a few hours later, pointing out that he set plans in motion weeks ago to introduce it at the Dec. 17 meeting of council.
Both councillors said Wednesday that elected officials should “lead by example” by showing fiscal restraint as Calgary continues to struggle to emerge from the economic downturn.
“We need to lead (by) example and show the other parts of the city that our expectation is a zero,” Sutherland said Wednesday. “As you know, major (labour) negotiations were due back in January. We don’t have an agreement at this point, we need to lead and show an example.”
Moments earlier, Farkas said something similar to reporters gathered at city hall. “It’s my hope that council by taking a pay freeze will send a strong message not just to the public, but also city administration and staff that we are leading by example,” he said. “We are not asking you to do anything that we ourselves are not willing to do.”
Coun. Sean Chu and Coun. Joe Magliocca both said on Twitter they would support Sutherland’s motion. Coun. Jeff Davison said Wednesday he also planned to support the motion.
Annual salary adjustments for Calgary ’s elected officials are made automatically based on a 12-month average of Alberta weekly earnings reports compiled by Statistics Canada.
Council’s pay bump is not yet confirmed, but current estimates peg the potential increase at around 2.5 per cent. The city said Wednesday it could not verify the exact amount of the hike until finalized figures on wages for September are released by Statistics Canada.
In 2018, for the second year in a row, Calgary ’s mayor and councillors saw their paycheques shrink slightly. Annual salaries for the mayor and 14 councillors decreased by 0.08 per cent on Jan. 1, meaning councillors earned $90.73 less than last year, while Nenshi’s paycheque was $160.60 lighter compared with 2017.
Councillors’ annual salaries currently sit at $113,416, plus benefits and expenses, while Mayor Naheed Nenshi earns about $200,500.
Nenshi and the city’s 14 councillors took a 2.49-per-cent pay cut in 2017 over the previous year, following several years of automatic hikes.
Farkas said Wednesday that he felt council should tackle the salary issue sooner than Sutherland had proposed. He said he wanted council to make a decision on the freeze at the outset of budget deliberations next week to “set the tone early.”
He said he’s also seeking a freeze on council pay for the remainder of the term, not just in 2019.
But Farkas’s approach appeared to ruffle some feathers Wednesday, with some of his colleagues suggesting he should have gone through the proper channels.
“The reality is there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about doing these things,” Davison said.
“Obviously, the majority of council knew Coun. Sutherland was bringing forward a notice of motion. We talk, we work together. Whether you agree or disagree with a notice of motion — it’s a courtesy to the other councillors that you say ‘this is what I’m bringing forward’ and you respect that process.”
Sutherland said Wednesday that he has filed his motion with the clerk’s office and told “most” of council about it, though he hadn’t spoken to Farkas.
It’s been just over two years since council last closely examined the topic of pay.
A five-member citizen committee that examined the salary adjustment formula in 2017 said it should stay in place, though the volunteer members recommended several changes, including having council vote annually on whether to accept the pay hike or cut, eliminating transition allowances for elected officials and chopping the mayor’s paycheque by six per cent.
The committee examined council pay in other municipalities and found at the time that Calgary’s mayor and councillors earned the most of seven cities profiled, though Edmonton council receives a hefty tax break that pushes their net salary higher than Calgary’s.
Regarding the pay freeze proposal, Nenshi said Wednesday that councillors shouldn’t meddle with the original decision made by the citizen committee. “That means you don’t interfere on the up side or on the down side,” Nenshi said.
“We rise and fall with the economy. That was the decision that council had made and I see no reason to change that because, ultimately, politicians shouldn’t control their own salaries.”
Coun. Jeromy Farkas announces he is seeking to ensure his peers don’t receive the automatic pay increase expected in January.