Whitehorse city councillor Samson Hartland will formally propose a freeze on wages for current council members at council’s next regular meeting on Oct. 13. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Council contemplates wage freeze for 2021

Hartland brings forward notice of motion

Whitehorse city councillor Samson Hartland will formally propose a freeze on wages for current council members at council’s next regular meeting on Oct. 13.

Hartland brought forward a notice of motion outlining his intention at council’s Sept. 28 meeting.

“WHEREAS the current Council Remuneration Bylaw provides for an adjustment of the base annual salary for all members of council on January 1, 2021 by the average annual Consumer Price Index for Whitehorse (CPI) for 2019, unless that CPI is a negative amount in which case the rate of adjustment will be zero; and WHEREAS in this difficult and uncertain time council has an opportunity to lead by example; BE IT RESOLVED THAT an adjustment to the base annual salary for all members of council scheduled for January 1, 2021 be waived,” Hartland stated in his notice of motion.

The proposed wage freeze comes following council’s vote at the Sept. 28 meeting to approve the first two readings of a bylaw setting out wage increases for the next term of council from 2021 to 2024.

The current council typically sets the wages for the next term of council about a year ahead of a municipal election. Municipal voters will next go to the polls on Oct. 21, 2021.

The proposed bylaw for the next term of council would set the mayor’s annual salary at $102,502 and councillors salaries at $36,901 with adjustments for the annual Consumer Price Index in Whitehorse.

There had been some discussion at an earlier meeting of freezing council wages for the 2021 to 2024 term in light of the economic impacts being faced due to COVID-19.

During council discussion ahead of the vote, members noted that the way the CPI is calculated may not be an accurate reflection of current economic circumstances given that the city has to look at the figure from more than a year earlier, but the formula is such that it provides for small increases that keep up with the cost of living.

“I think keeping the base rate the way it is now, I have no problems with,” Coun. Jan Stick said. “I think this is a fair bylaw.”

She noted that while she would like to look at other dates to calculate CPI, overall the bylaw as proposed is sound and something she will support.

At an earlier meeting of council Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, explained that when the city calculates the CPI it looks at the most recent annual average available, though this goes back more than a year because of the timing of when that figure is available.

Adjustments for CPI are made on Jan. 1 each year, but the average for the previous year is not immediately available and that means officials go to the average for the year before that.

As Constable stated in her report to council: “Because of the time of year when the average annual CPI for Whitehorse is published, an adjustment on January 1st of each year requires using the statistic from two years previous. For example, to adjust salary levels for 2020 on January 1, it was necessary to use the average annual CPI for 2018.”

In an interview following council’s Sept. 28 meeting, Hartland said while the freeze on current council wages is an opportunity for council to lead by example at a time when many in the business community are suffering the economic impacts of COVID-19, he would vote in favour of the increase for the 2021 to 2024 term of council knowing that the CPI for 2020 will likely be at zero. That means when wages for council are calculated in 2022, they are not likely to change because any potential CPI increase would be based on the 2020 year.

Noting his motion to freeze wages for the current council, he said “What I’m hoping to do through the notice of motion is proactively take a step forwards in our remuneration that we have control (of) to make sure we’re not experiencing the increase, whereas the CPI may be of negative value, and of course future council will have to deal with that at the time.

“The negative impact of CPI is very real and when that calculation comes into effect you’ll see from the bylaw if there’s a negative CPI it will be no increase.”

Others also voiced their support for continuing with the process that has been established in determining council wages for the future, though also expressed some concerns with the CPI date calculation.

Coun. Steve Roddick noted he’s pleased the work was done previously to establish the formula and is looking forward to discussing Hartland’s notice of motion at a future meeting.

Council will vote Oct. 13 on each third reading of the bylaw for the 2021 to 2024 term of council in October and Hartland’s motion to freeze wages for council in 2021.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

Whitehorse city council