Pay hike motion passes close vote at Whitehorse council

Higher pay would encourage more diverse slate of candidates, backers say

Whitehorse City Council passed first and second readings of a bylaw that would bring in a pay increase for the incoming mayor and councillors, but the decision was divided.

At a meeting Feb. 12, councillors Samson Hartland, Dan Boyd and Jocelyn Curteanu opposed the increase, which could see the mayor’s salary jump from $87,942 to $100,100, while councillor salaries will increase from $20,496 to $36,036.

An administrative report explaining the recommendation was presented to council Feb. 5.

Catherine Constable, manager of legislative services, said the raise reflected a recent decision of the Canada Revenue Agency to begin taxing a percentage of an elected official’s salary — a percentage that was previously untaxed, as it was meant to cover work-related expenses.

An additional increase to councillor’s salaries was recommended in order to keep Whitehorse in line with trends in western municipalities of similar size, where councillors make 36 per cent of the mayor’s wages.

On Feb. 12, both Boyd and Curteanu proposed amendments to the increase.

Curteanu suggested an increase of 2.5 per cent on top of the adjustments made to accommodate changes in CRA rules. This amendment was defeated.

Boyd, who recently opposed the city’s proposed 2018 operating and maintenance budget, said it would be difficult for him to support a wage increase to council in light of that opposition.

He suggested adjusting for the new CRA rules, but foregoing the additional raise for councillors.

Hartland was the only councillor to support this.

“We have an opportunity here to lead by example, to show that we’re willing to make sacrifices,” said Hartland. “And running for council is a sacrifice and we know that. We know what we’re signing up for.”

Coun. Rob Fendrick said it’s a noble cause to run for public office, but that it’s a job that requires thick skin.

Coun. Roslyn Woodcock agreed. “Personally, I do a lot of semi-volunteer work for community organizations too, which I am paid for at around the same rate, sometimes a little bit more. But nobody shits on me for that work, I can tell you. What I get for that work is a lot of ‘thanks’ and ‘you’re a wonderful person for helping out these volunteer organizations.’ That is not what happens when you sit on council.”

Woodcock was one of the most vocal supporters of the increase, saying it would allow for a greater diversity of candidates to run in the upcoming election.

She said if you’re not retired or independently wealthy, the wage needs to be at par with a part-time job.

“I’d like to see some working moms, part-time working moms or single moms … that will never happen at the rate that we’re at and therefore we’re not representative of this community as this stands and that’s a problem for me,” she said.

Coun. Betty Irwin agreed with Woodcock, saying that if you care about the position, it’s easy to put in more than part-time hours.

“If it was a wage, we’d be working probably at $2 an hour or less right now,” said Fendrick, who also questioned whether council has a representative cross-section.

He said he thinks the salary has been set arbitrarily low because councillors are afraid of the backlash if they increase the pay rate, but he thinks current council needs to do just that for the sake of the next council and future councils.

“For me, passing the buck to the next council is a real problem,” said Woodcock, echoing Fendrick. “No one wants to talk about this because everyone’s afraid they’re not going to get re-elected. And for me, if that’s the cause that I don’t get re-elected if I run again, I’m fine with that.”

“It’s really easy to talk about nobility on council when you have money in the bank…. We need a different cross-section on council and we need to facilitate that happening,” she said.

Third reading will take place later in February.

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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