After agonizing over the merits of taking a two per cent pay raise, Red Deer city council elected to do so on Monday.
Council easily handed down a similar increase to 125 exempt employees or non-unionized staff, which includes the city manager, supervisors, department heads and specialists. The increase takes effect on July 1.
But council was torn over whether to give themselves a pay raise, which would bump up their salary to $27,556 from $27,016.
Normally, council doesn’t debate the issue because their salaries are tied in with a policy that say council would get the same as exempt staff.
Councillor Larry Pimm asked that it be separated this time, so that council could vote against the increase.
He said council should show it was being mindful of those who are having to do with less.
“We can’t get too excited that this a big grandiose gesture — it’s not,” Pimm added. “It comes to about $40 a month in pre-tax dollars. It’s not a big deal, but symbolically, we’re tightening a little bit too.”
Councillor Lynne Mulder said she wasn’t sure what to do because if she voted against Pimm’s motion, she could be seen in the public eye as a “money-grabbing” individual.
“There’s a principle on both sides,” she said.
Giving a pay raise to the rest of staff, but not to elected officials, didn’t sit well with Councillor Cindy Jefferies.
“This is about recognizing the work that we do,” Jefferies said.
She suggested that what should have been trimmed was the expense budget that each councillor receives. This would have been passed as part of the city’s 2010 operating budget.
“And we didn’t do that during that debate,” she said.
Councillor Frank Wong said council could show leadership by spending less on out-of-town conferences.
“We keep talking that we’re Alberta’s third-largest city, but we keep acting like the town I grew up in of 3,500 people,” said Councillor Buck Buchanan. “We’ve got to get away from this mentality.”
He added the $4,000 total increase for eight members of council is nominal.
Councillor Gail Parks echoed Mulder’s sentiments about what people could think.
“I sure don’t want to be that wretched, greedy gal,” she said.
But she added the position is valued in the community.
Councillor Tara Veer said she wasn’t sure which way to vote.
“I dread this vote every year because it’s awkward to be voting on your own pay raise,” Veer said. “On the one hand, we have the principle of the work that we do is important. If we were CEOs of a corporation of this magnitude, our salaries would be different. And yet, I think it would be fair to say, none of us do it for the salary.”
Veer ended up voting in favour of Pimm’s motion to not accept a pay raise. It was defeated by Mayor Morris Flewwelling and Councillors Jefferies, Mulder, Parks, Buchanan and Wong. Councillor Lorna Watkinson-Zimmer was absent.
“The community will have heard your agony in making this choice,” said Flewwelling.
With the decision, Flewwelling’s salary will rise to $81,785 from $80,181.
City manager Craig Curtis’s annual salary will increase to $195,231 from $191,403.
Marge Wray, Human Resources manager, said the two per cent increase to management staff salaries strikes a fine balance between fiscal restraint and the need to keep a motivated, committed management workforce.
Other council decisions:
• council ratifies agreement with CUPE Local 417
• council redirects $1 million from a new curling complex no longer on the table to renovations that will be done at the downtown area curling centre.
• council approves environmental advisory committee resolution to urge the provincial government to reduce reliance on non-renewable energy
• first reading is given to proposed amendments on penalties under the land use bylaw