While the vast majority of his political opponents make pay-cut pledges of varying amounts, Mayor Brian Bigger isn’t joining them.
City council received backlash following the release of a Sudbury.com story last year in which it was clarified the mayor’s salary and benefits increased by 60 per cent in four years.
The Greater Sudbury mayor’s total salary and benefits increased from $143,347 in 2016 to $228,873 in 2020, putting his earnings in the same ballpark as Premier Doug Ford’s.
Much of the increase – approximately $45,000 – took place in 2019 in reaction to a tax change that found one-third of elected officials’ pay previously considered tax-exempt becoming taxed. Each city councillor’s pay was also boosted by approximately $6,000 each that year, all to help make up the difference and shield their take-home pay from the impacts of the tax change.
“I believe it is important to know that no individual on the city council, neither mayor nor councillor, can single-handedly decrease or increase their salary,” Bigger told Sudbury.com by email correspondence this week.
“Remuneration is set in the bylaw and takes a vote of the entire council to change it. Interestingly, this was voted on and set by council in 2008 after considering the recommendations of a public advisory committee. At this time, they also established policies on the rate increases for councillors and the mayor.”
The 2019 tax adjustment “meant downloading the amount to Greater Sudbury citizens and municipalities across Canada,” Bigger added.
“No change of base pay was requested or has been made by your city councillors or mayor.”
The mayor’s job, Bigger said, is “being on call 24/7,” with 12-14-hour work days, reading thousands of pages of reports and documents each month and accepting the impact on personal and family time.
“The position I've held for the last eight years is not just a job, it's a lifestyle,” he said. “This is not a role that someone can do in their spare time or as a part-time gig while they run their other businesses.”
The vast majority of Bigger’s political opponents have pledged to cut their salaries.
Mila Wong has promised to donate 50 per cent of the mayor’s salary toward the community’s most urgent needs via United Way.
Devin Labranche pledged a mayoral salary reduction to $145,000.
Evelyn Dutrisac would cap her salary and benefits at $150,000.
“As a sign of my diehard determination to reduce the expenses at the corporation of Greater Sudbury, I commit today to cap my salary and benefits to $150,000 gross for each year of my four-year term,” Dutrisac said in a media release issued in June.
Don Gravelle has promised to make a minimum $10,000 donation to a community organization each year to “assist them with their goal of improving the community or assisting others in the community.”
Paul Lefebvre said the mayor’s salary should be rolled back to the original base salary of $143,000, bringing it to its pre-tax adjustment level.
“The compensation package now in place for the City of Greater Sudbury mayor is far and above that of any Northern community, and many communities across Ontario,” he said, adding that while he agrees the mayor’s position should carry a fair compensation level, he rejects the rationale behind the 60-per-cent increase in compensation over four years.
“All Canadians expect to pay income taxes on their earnings,” he said.
“The fact that some of the mayor’s salary was exempt was at best an anomaly – at worst a taxpayer-funded compensation boost not extended to other positions. It is both fair and just that it was removed in the tax code 2019.”
Miranda Rocca-Circelli said her opponents have pledged to “arbitrarily cut the remuneration for the mayor’s position,” and that they “may be trying to create a wedge issue and gain some publicity.”
Given its miniscule impact on the city’s overall budget, she said she will instead propose a “complete audit which would include council’s remuneration package, and I stand committed to implement all of the recommendations the auditor may make.”
The city has already committed to a review of mayor and council members’ remuneration, which the mayor and council elected on Oct. 24 will have the city undertake next year.
Similar to Rocca-Circelli, Bob Johnston said he would push for a third-party audit of city finances, which the city already undertakes every year.
Last year’s audit was undertaken by KPMG, whose staff determined the city’s 2021 consolidated financial statements to be “in accordance with Canadian public sector accounting standards.” They offered an “unqualified audit opinion,” which means they found the finances to be fairly and appropriately presented.
Johnston has also pledged to donate $50,000 during his first year as mayor toward educational programming to help transition the chronically homeless toward permanent community housing, and $50,000 during his second year toward helping people through addictions issues.
Sudbury.com did not reach out to convicted purveyor of hate speech David Popescu, who is also running for mayor.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.