Kenora city council has spirited discussion about salary increases for non-union staff

At a committee of the whole meeting on Wednesday, Kenora city council discussed the adoption of the new non-union salary grid for professional and management staff, which will result in an increase in salaries.

Administration was tasked to do a salary review for non-union staff. It compared external salaries from comparator municipalities using data from a provincial survey with the salary levels of comparable employees. The review also looked at wages for staff at the museum, which is also non-unionized.

None of the members of council voiced any concerns about accepting the new salary grid to bring staff in-line with provincial averages, however questions arose about when to start implementing it.

According to administration, the cost for an increase starting retroactively on Jan. 1 of this year would be $395,000.

“I'm not suggesting that this is not important for the city. That's the last thing I'm saying,” Mayor Andrew Poirier said. “I'm looking at the reality of our budget this year.”

“I know that's maybe not what some individuals are looking for, but that will go a long way and help us in our budget deliberations because we're at the very high range in Northwestern Ontario for tax increases,” he said.

“We need to be cognizant of that for our taxpayers. That's why we were put here is to look after the interests of ratepayers and taxpayers.”

The idea of a later implementation date of July 1 was suggested by a few members of council, including Poirier.

“I can live with an implementation, but I cannot with Jan. 1, 2023,” he said.

Coun. Barbara Manson said it looked like council had reached consensus about adopting the pay grid.

“This is happening,” she said. “All we're suggesting is to implement it a little later just to help this year's budget a little.”

Coun. Lisa Moncrief also agreed with the idea of a later start date.

"What we can control and compromising a little bit on behalf of everyone in the city that pays taxes, I think would be a win for everyone.”

Coun. Lindsay Koch also spike about the need for the salary increases.

“I think the ratepayers would be happy to see never an increase myself included, Koch said. "However, we have a responsibility to the people we employ if we want them to stay here and enjoy their lives here. And I feel like making sure we're paying them adequately is very important.”

She noted that tax increases may be high this year, they are projected to be lower the next couple of years.

“We can't lose sight of that,” she said.

One who was clear there should be no delay was Coun. Kelsie Van Belleghem, who also said she understands the implications of these tax increased levels.

“I just want to state very clearly for the record that I don't think people's compensation is the correct way to do this,” she said.

“I asked this council how it can say that we cannot afford to pay a municipal staff a fair wage to do the job, which municipalities are required to do, when we can afford to give over $6 million in municipal tax dollars to subsidize health, social services and ambulances and other programs which fall within the jurisdiction of other governments,” she said.

“I hope that this council and our community will start to punch up, going forward and seize continuing to punch down over and over again. Frankly, it's shortsighted in a lazy way to try and get a political win. I, for one, am not going to play politics with people's livelihoods and believe in fair wages for fair work.”

“I think it's an easy thing for us to do at this table because we are the ones who have control over this,” she said. “But these are also rate payers [who are also facing inflation, who will get] a zero per cent increase until July by making this decision.”

At the end of the discussion, it was determined that the report will be presented as is for a vote at the next city council meeting on March 22.

Director of corporate services and city clerk Heather Pihaulik reminded council that amendments, including a delayed implementation date, could be brought up at the time.

Eric Shih, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Thunder Bay Source