Halifax council salaries could freeze with new compensation report
Councillors vote Tuesday on a report that says they're being paid too much
Halifax councillors could see salaries frozen and pensions changed after a new report says they make too much money.
The report by regional council's compensation committee proposes changing the formula that calculates councillors' salaries.
Steve Craig, councillor for District 15 Lower Sackville, requested the report in 2014 from a committee made up of members of the public.
"I'm OK with a frozen salary," Craig said.
"Maybe it's one of those cases where people talk about leading by example until it impacts them themselves."
Salaries based on average Halifax worker
The new salaries, should council vote Tuesday to approve the report, would be based on the average full-time worker's salary in Halifax, according to Statistics Canada data in 2010 and the consumer price index, plus 25 per cent.
The deputy mayor would make 10 per cent more than a councillor. The mayor would make 2.2 times a councillor's salary. The report notes mayors across Canada make between 1.5 and 3.5 times what a councillor makes.
These changes would actually decrease councillors' salaries, so they would be frozen until the average salary and the consumer price index increase beyond that, the report said.
- Calculation — Average full-time salary in Halifax plus 25 percent
- Recommended salary — $73,967
- Frozen salary — $82,653
- Calculation — Councillor salary plus 10 per cent
- Recommended salary — $81,400
- Frozen salary — $90,918
- Calculation — Councillor salary times 2.2
- Recommended salary — $162,800
- Frozen salary — $176,034
Duties 'exceed' normal jobs
Councillors have duties that "exceed the expectations of an 'average full-time worker'," the report said, and so the 25 per cent bump from the average is "reasonable."
Councillors, for example, must be on call all hours of the day, absorb a lot of information quickly, be media savvy and face a high level of public accountability and scrutiny, the report said. Councillors consulted for the report also said they feel added pressure since the number of councillors was cut from 23 to 16 in the last election.
'Job to serve'
Matt Whitman, deputy mayor and councillor for Hammonds Plains-St. Margarets, said he voted against ordering the report, and he'll vote against accepting it.
"I came to this job to serve. I work double the hours now for half the money. I'm not interested in taking any more risks at the expense of my family," he said.
"It would be crazy to think that working these hours for less pay would be a good idea."
'I don't think it's a problem'
Despite that, Whitman said he's running for another term, but money is on his mind. He said he has a mortgage and two teens looking to attend university in the coming years. His wife also works full time, he said.
He said he works six to seven days a week and at least 12 hours, often answering dozens of constituents questions in that time. For him, the salary report was never needed — and he said he feels uncomfortable voting on his own wages.
"I don't think it needs to be messed with," Whitman said.
"I don't think it's a problem. I've never had a resident complain about how much money I make or if I'm accessible."
Craig said he'll ask Tuesday how exactly the 25 per cent number was reached. The report said it used "knowledge, experience and best judgement of the committee members," who include:
- Gerry Walsh, a human resources consultant who publishes a regional salary guide
- Colin Dodds, a finance professor and former president of Saint Mary's University
- Cheryl Hodder, McInnes Cooper lawyer and partner
- Amy MacIsaac, accountant and office operations manager at Collins Barrow
- Larry Munroe, Halifax's auditor general
Several unnamed experts were also consulted, along with the 15 constituents who attended multiple public forums. The report was supposed to be finished in August 2015, but the committee didn't start meeting until July 2015. They finished last month.
Committee member Gerry Walsh said by email Saturday the group would answer questions after council meets Tuesday.
Severance and pension changes
Elected councillors aren't hired for a long-term job, the report noted, but do a lot of hard work, nonetheless.
The committee recommends transition pay — or severance — of up to three months, to ease councillors through to finding a new job if they decide not to reoffer or fail to get re-elected.
The committee also suggests councillors be removed from the defined benefit pension plan other municipal staff have, and instead be given 7.5 per cent of their annual salary to invest in their own RRSPs.
Craig said that's more typical of the private sector and of professions where people move around quickly.
Overall, Craig said the answers aren't easy to find.
"Some people will say, 'Hey, you're getting paid way too much'. Other people will say, 'You're not paid enough' — and they're all right," he said.
"It's a touchy subject for a lot of people, I understand that."