Richmond councillor votes against cut in pay raises for staff
Coun. Brent Sampson says council should have restored merit increases employees voluntarily waived last year
All but one councillor in Richmond County, N.S., have voted in favour of the municipal budget after council trimmed pay raises for employees who voluntarily gave up their merit increases last year due to a financial crunch brought on by the pandemic.
Councillors had reached consensus on a tax increase in May, but voted last week on a smaller hike achieved by cutting spending — including half of a scheduled pay increase for staff.
Taxes will now go up by a penny for every $100 of residential or commercial property assessment.
Brent Sampson, the lone councillor to vote against the budget, says his colleagues could have gone a little higher to pay municipal staff the raises they are owed.
"It [the tax hike] would have been three cents, but what was cut, as far as the staff merit increase, wouldn't even account for half a cent of an increase," he said.
Sampson said he agreed with making some spending cuts in what has been "a difficult year for a lot of people."
However, he said staff gave up pay raises altogether last year because of the pandemic, and should have had the increases restored this year.
"I felt it was disrespectful to staff based on them trying to step up for the good of the county last year, and now we come in and seven months later we kind of decide to ignore the rules," he said.
Warden Amanda Mombourquette said councillors were ready to hike taxes higher in May, but with the province still in the grips of the pandemic, they had a change of heart.
"We were really interested in investing in our infrastructure, investing back in community and investing in people, and the bottom line is we've had to put some of those priorities on hold. And that's unfortunate, but I really think that ... people in our communities are suffering," she said.
"The more I spoke to people about the budget, the more and more concern I was starting to develop about people's ability to pay during this particular time."
Mombourquette said council eliminated its own pay raise and cut back on infrastructure spending.
"People have lost work," she said. "We've seen our cultural sector dry up. We've seen our non-profits lose their fundraising ability and businesses have adapted the best way that they possibly can, but the bottom line is ... that they and their employees and our constituents, they're really in a bit of a financial bind right now."
Small hike could not be avoided, says warden
However, she said, council could not avoid a small increase in taxes.
Mandatory costs from the province — for things like policing, housing and education — increased by $120,000 this year, and council added $100,000 to support health-care recruiting, transit and grants to struggling non-profit groups.
With the one-cent increase, the residential tax rate will rise to 81 cents per $100 of assessed property value and the commercial rate goes to $2.11 per $100 of assessment.
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