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Council passes 2.35% pay hike for councillors

Amendment to lower the increase to 1.5 per cent, in line with what unionized staff will receive, was narrowly defeated.
Thunder Bay City Council stock
Thunder Bay's city council voted 10-1 on Monday to raise its pay by 2.35 per cent. (Ian Kaufman, TBnewswatch)

THUNDER BAY – Thunder Bay’s city council has passed an increase of 2.35 per cent to its own pay, over the objections of one councillor who said he was uncomfortable approving an increase larger than those negotiated with the city’s unionized staff.

The 10-1 vote Monday means councillor pay will rise to around $34,378 this year, with the mayor’s salary hitting $129,501.

The increase, set at half the rate of inflation according to city policy, will cost the city around $12,700, all told.

A majority of city councillors indicated to TBnewswatch last week they would support the raise, saying the current policy keeps pay from slipping behind as it has in the past – and keeps politics out of the decision.

“I think it was really a good move by the previous council to put the policy in place,” said Mayor Bill Mauro. “It really de-politicizes the issue and keeps people from sort of poaching on an issue like this.”

Several also argued allowing pay to backslide could make it harder to attract good candidates to run for council, a role many framed as “all-consuming” and tantamount to at least a full-time job (though councillors are officially considered part-time).

“Compensation makes up some of the motivation for candidates to run,” said Coun. Andrew Foulds. “I know it’s politically unpopular, but I really don’t think we should be ashamed of the hard work we put in, and I think workers should be compensated fairly. I think half of inflation is reasonable.”

Council approved a policy of yearly increases at half the rate of inflation in 2019 following a review. Ontario’s Municipal Act still requires council to hold a vote each year, however.

The city uses the increase to the previous year’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) for Thunder Bay, as calculated by Statistics Canada, as a benchmark.

That local inflationary measure rose by a whopping 4.7 per cent in 2021, resulting in the recommended 2.35 per cent pay bump.

Coun. Mark Bentz proposed reducing the raise to 1.5 per cent. While he’s generally supportive of council’s pay policy, Bentz said it should be reconsidered in times of high inflation.

Most unionized staff are receiving 1.5 to 2 per cent increases, Bentz confirmed with city staff (though council also approved a 4 per cent increase to management and other non-unionized staff on Monday).

“This isn’t a big ticket item – it’s more of an [optics issue],” he said. “I don’t want us to vote in an increase that’s higher than most of our staff – I don’t think that looks good.”

An amendment to cut the increase to 1.5 per cent failed 6-5, with Couns. Aiello, Bentz, Hamilton, Oliver, and Ruberto for and Couns. Ch’ng, Foulds, Fraser, Johnson, McKinnon, and Mayor Mauro opposed.

After the amendment failed, Bentz cast the only vote against the 2.35 per cent increase. Couns. Trevor Giertuga and Peng You, who is on leave, were absent for Monday’s meeting.

Mauro suggested some limits should be set on the policy, saying a 3.5 per cent increase, for example, would be unacceptable.

The city could find itself in that position next year, given rising inflation, said Bentz.

“I appreciate the policy – I think it’s a good policy,” he said. “I think this is still a bit of an anomaly… If inflation happens to peg at 7 per cent this year, which it very well could and still may, we’d be looking at 3.5 per cent.”

The increase is retroactive to Jan. 1.

Councillors voted to forego a raise in 2020 due to the pandemic, saving the city $4,900, but approved a 0.55 per cent increase last year, costing the city about $3,000.

Ian Kaufman

About the Author: Ian Kaufman

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