Regina city councillors will decide whether or not they agree with a recommendation from a city committee to boost pay for elected officials at a meeting this week.
The Elected Official Compensation Review Committee, created in May and consisting of three appointed individuals, is recommending that city council approve its salary review and that the process for amending the city bylaw on salaries be amended and updated.
"I just think it sends the wrong message. We're dealing with a worldwide pandemic and its impact on Regina," Mayor Michael Fougere said Monday. "I don't think we should be talking about salary increases for councillors. It never is a good time but now I think now is particularly not a good time."
If approved, the jump would boost the mayor's salary by just under five per cent to $151,015 in 2020; his base salary was $144,278 in 2019. City councillors would see a significantly larger boost to their salaries as they would earn $57,660 in 2020, compared to $44,507 in 2019 — about a 30 per cent boost.
The last time there was a salary review for elected officials was in 2001, which indexed the mayor's salary to just over 77 per cent of a provincial cabinet minister's pay. Councillors' pay was attached to the mayor's at a rate of a third of their salary, or 33 per cent of the mayor's wages.
The review committee recommended that salary adjustments be tied to Regina's Consumer Price Index in the future.
That changed when public policy changes in 2018 removed tax exemptions for the municipal officials, which necessitated a salary tweak the next year. The mayor was paid 99.78 per cent of a cabinet minister's salary while councillors got 30.73 of what the mayor was paid, a move made to ensure everyone was kept paid whole.
Calling vs career?
Fougere said serving on city council should be a calling, not a career, which is partially why he is against the recommendation.
For Ward 3 councillor Andrew Stevens, the decision on salary should be decided by the next elected city council, not the current one. The salary hike, if approved, would go into effect January 2021.
Stevens thinks salaries could be higher to attract younger people and a more diverse applicant pool in general. He thinks the responsibility placed on city councillors is also growing.
"If we were to approve this, it would apply only to the next council but instead, I would actually push it further and say that the next council should make this decision," he said.
Stevens said the City of Regina cannot and should not tolerate part-time councillors. Councillors need to be focused and willing to do the work full-time, salary included but must be balanced with the pandemic's pressures, the city's long-term viability and the problems the city residents are facing during the pandemic.
"It can be a calling but unfortunately it's predominantly a calling for people with other forms of employment; it's predominantly a calling, then, for people who are retired," Stevens said. "That shouldn't be the case."
Stevens noted that bills and food costs need to be paid. The councillor also said it's easier for the mayor to make that comment when he makes significantly more money in a full-time position.
"There's a reason why, economically, we're not really the most diverse," Stevens said of his council colleagues. "There's a reason why it's people in professions like real estate, or retirees, or small business owners — or professors — who have other incomes and very flexible lives and careers that enable them to do this part-time."