The remuneration of Greater Sudbury’s mayor and 12 councillors should be reviewed, Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc said, “to see if we’re actually in line.”
Leduc made the suggestion during tonight’s finance and administration meeting, during which he said the city needs to compare its remuneration levels against similarly sized municipalities.
No formal motion came forward tonight, but Leduc said he would work with staff to bring a relevant motion to a future meeting.
Mayor Brian Bigger raised the issue of remuneration during tonight’s meeting as a means of drawing attention to certain realities behind how rates have been determined. This push for clarity came in response to recent media coverage regarding compensation levels, namely that Bigger’s salary and benefits have increased by 60 per cent in four years.
Greater Sudbury general manager of corporate services Kevin Fowke explained matters, noting that mayor and council pay rates were set several years ago and that a city bylaw automatically increases their remuneration every April based on whatever rate is afforded the city’s largest collective bargaining units.
The only change city council has made to their pay since 2009 was in the 2019 budget, which came in response to changes in Canada Revenue Agency guidelines.
At that time, the one-third of their pay that was previously tax-exempt became taxable earnings, so city councillors’ pay was increased by approximately $6,000 each and the mayor’s pay was increased by $45,000 to make up the difference.
Bigger pulled this point aside during tonight’s meeting to draw extra attention to the fact that his and his colleagues’ take-home pay changed little that year despite it appearing so on paper. As for the municipal tax impact that came with city council opting to have taxpayers absorb the tax change, the mayor blamed the federal government.
“I see this as essentially the federal government was allowing a tax break and now this is further evidence of downloading by upper levels of government onto the shoulders of local taxpayers.”
As for a review of remuneration rates, Fowke said it’ll be up to city council and that the last review, undertaken in 2006, was facilitated by a citizens panel that brought recommendations to council.
The timing of the review will also be up for discussion, he said, with the two best options likely prior to the 2022 municipal election and shortly thereafter.
“Is the last year of a council the time to do that type of a review?” he asked. “You’re doing it not for yourselves, but you’re performing a review for the next council to come on.”
On the flipside, he said the start of a council’s mandate can be less encumbered by politics.
The reaction around virtual council chambers to Leduc’s motion tonight was mixed.
Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti, who said “people are tired of excess everywhere” welcomed it.
Bigger suggested it might not be necessary, arguing, “perhaps the proper compensation is actually occurring today.”
Public consultation on this matter already took place several years ago, he said, and there has been “a decade of councils both receiving reports on this in the public realm and accepting the compensation package each year”
Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan said the whole situation isn’t a big deal.
“This has been blown out of proportion by the media, as are most things,” he said.
“Since 2009 there hasn’t been a problem, and we have one article that all of a sudden thinks they’ve discovered something that is four years old and we have a few people in the public who are upset with it, but quite frankly, the majority of the population isn’t.”
Given the city’s population and physical size, he said their compensation levels are “not fair.”
“They’re too low, and they’re so low that they discourage a lot of people from running for council, so if anything the compensation rates should go up, but I’m certainly not suggesting that,” he said, adding that if a review is undertaken it should be during the first year of a new council’s mandate.
Last year, Bigger earned $180,448 in remuneration and received $48,435 in fringe benefits, according to the city’s year-end report. City councillors’ remuneration ranged from $45,152 and $53,967, while their fringe benefits ranged from $9,408 and $14,746.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.