Whitehorse city council in Whitehorse on June 17, 2019. Council discussed a freeze of their own wages during the Sept. 21 meeting. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Council ponders freezing own wages

As it considers salaries for next term, some current members suggest not taking next CPI increase

Whitehorse city council members are pondering a freeze on their own wages.

The topic came up at council’s Sept. 21 meeting where members were presented with proposed wages for the 2021-2024 term, as it is the current council that votes on the wages for the next city council about a year ahead of a municipal election. The next municipal election is scheduled for Oct. 21, 2021.

While the proposed bylaw 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, a few council members proposed putting a freeze on wages.

Coun. Samson Hartland was the first to bring forward the suggestion, arguing that even for the current council some thought should be given to foregoing the next CPI increase, which would come into effect Jan. 1.

He pointed out that the city’s method of calculating the CPI isn’t a good reflection of the current economic realities being faced.

While COVID-19 will have a major impact on this year’s CPI, no one could have predicted it two years ago, Hartland said.

Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, explained to members 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.

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.”

Coun. Jan Stick later suggested there could be other ways of calculating the CPI, perhaps looking at where the figure is at on an anniversary date from the year before.

“It just seems like a complicated way to (calculate it),” she said of the current method.

Mayor Dan Curtis also spoke in favour of freezing council wages for the remaining portion of this term as well as next term with the CPI increases to then begin coming into effect again in the 2024 to 2027 term.

“We are in very unusual times,” he said, stressing the importance of showing leadership at this time.

He also noted that while it is the current council that sets the pay rate for the next council, there may be a perception that council is voting in favour of raising wages for itself, particularly if members run for another term. Curtis confirmed he will be running for another term in the October 2021 election.

Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu stated her agreement that it could be a good idea to leave remuneration for council as is without adjusting it to the CPI, questioning Constable on what that would mean for the bylaw.

While Constable emphasized the bylaw proposed dealt specifically with remuneration for the 2021 to 2024 term of office, she also noted council could vote separately on changing the bylaw governing pay for the current council.

Coun. Steve Roddick, meanwhile, suggested another way to show leadership could be in taking the amount that comes with the CPI increases and donating it to a charity or individual in need.

While no decision has been made, both Hartland and Curtis indicated they would be looking at potential bylaw changes to freeze council wages over the next week before the bylaw for the 2021 to 2024 term comes forward again on Sept. 28.

Coun. Laura Cabott noted she is looking forward to a future discussion on it.

Along with setting out wages and benefits, the bylaw as currently written also maintains the stipend amounts for councillors representing the city at events. They would remain at $100 for events lasting between one and four hours, or at $150 for events lasting more than four hours.

The last time council remuneration was changed was in 2018 for the current council. It saw the mayor’s salary increased from $87,942 to $101,100 and remuneration for councillors increased from $20,496 to $36,036 with CPI adjustments for each year.

The large increase came in light of a change by the Canada Revenue Agency to begin taxing salaries of elected officials.

An additional increase was also made to councillor’s salaries in an effort to keep Whitehorse in line with other municipalities of similar sizes, where councillors make 36 per cent of the mayor’s wages.

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

Whitehorse city council