City council rejects wage freeze for 2021, approves 1.5% hike

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Owen Sound has decided to stick to a 1.5 per cent pay hike for council members this year despite one councillor’s proposal to freeze the wages for 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Council narrowly defeated, in a 5-4 vote, Coun. Marion Koepke’s motion March 29.

“In recognition of COVID still affecting our finances, I think it responsible of council to not accept a wage increase for the year 2021 of the 1.5 per cent and that consideration in 2022 and 2023 take place as usual with the regular increase,” Koepke said, while introducing her motion.

Mayor Ian Boddy, Deputy-mayor Brian O’Leary and councillors Travis Dodd, Brock Hamley and Richard Thomas opposed the council wage freeze.

Thomas said the reason the city decided to form a remuneration committee to recommend wage increases for council was due to former councils failing to approve their own pay hikes. That resulted in council pay in Owen Sound falling significantly behind that of comparable municipalities.

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“Some catch-up” had to happen in 2017, Thomas said, when council approved a pay increase of 9.7 per cent for councillors and three per cent for the mayor, as recommended by the committee, to put Owen Sound more in line with the comparable municipalities.

To ensure city council pay didn’t fall behind again, the committee recommended council keep their future increases at least at the same level as the hikes approved for the city’s non-union workers, which will see their pay climb by 1.5 per cent this year.

“We keep on having this discussion every time somebody wants to make a point and the real point is that the remuneration system was put in not for us sitting here, but for future generations of councillors who are going to come to Owen Sound and expect some minimal compensation for the hours they put in on behalf of their fellow residents,” he said.

Mayor Ian Boddy noted the 1.5 per cent pay hike, which will cost the city a combined $3,800 this year, is already included in the 2021 budget, which council approved this winter.

Coun. Scott Greig, who supported Koepke’s motion, said council met “far less” in 2020 due to the pandemic and there are fewer committee and council meetings scheduled in 2021 than in previous years.

“One discussion we did not have when we looked forward at going to every second month for some committees, meeting less frequently and getting rid of one, two, three council meetings a year, there was no discussion about paying the councillors the same or more because of that. I think that’s missing,” he said.

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After Koepke’s motion was defeated, council approved the original motion to increase council pay by 1.5 per cent in 2021, 2022 and 2023.

Boddy earned $57,853 in pay as mayor in 2020, while Deputy-mayor Brian O’Leary received a $29,268 salary from the city. Councillors earned $25,450 each last year.

A 2017 report from the remuneration committee, which was made up of five Owen Sound residents, said council members were not being compensated fairly for their responsibilities when looking at comparable municipalities, like Orangeville, Brockville and Orillia.

The report said the lag in compensation was partly the fault of council, which opted, at times, to forego at budget talks increases to their own remuneration.

But, the report said those decisions also led to a situation where council compensation “may not be sufficient to attract talented and committed individuals to serve.”

The committee recommended that future council pay adjustments – after the initial increases – be “no less than the non-union wage increases” and that the council hikes “not be deferred at budget time.”

Corporate services director Kate Allan said council has committed to undertaking a new remuneration study in 2024.

Koepke introduced her motion after council approved a staff recommendation to increase by 1.5 per cent the wages for the city’s 100 non-union staff members in 2021, 2022 and 2023.

Those increases come after the city ratified a new collective agreement with its inside workers, represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), that included 1.5 per cent wage increases each year of the three-year contract.

Allan said non-union wage increases have historically followed the hikes negotiated by that CUPE Local.

Keeping those increases the same will also help to set the upper limit of wage adjustments as the city heads into negotiations later this year with its outside workers, also represented by CUPE, as well as upcoming arbitration with the Owen Sound Fire Fighters’ Association, she said.

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