Edmonton city councillors are being asked to freeze base salaries for the 2021-25 council term as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a report released Thursday, an independent review committee is also recommending annual adjustments to council salaries be nixed in January 2021 and 2022 — an unprecedented move outside the purview of the committee because it would impact the compensation agreement of the current council.
But committee chairwoman Phyllis Clark said she feels it’s the right recommendation to make because of recent economic volatility caused by the pandemic.
“The economy now is in a difficult situation and we thought there were many people in the city that were in a situation that was also difficult and we didn’t think that it was a good idea to have an automatic increase go through at this time,” she said in an interview with Postmedia Friday. “We thought that it was unfair to the constituents the council serves to have an increase that was not representative of what’s happening in the economy.”
Typically, the salaries of the mayor and councillors are adjusted annually using the percentage change in the Alberta Average Weekly Earnings values provided by Statistics Canada. Since the October 2017 election, Mayor Don Iveson’s pay has increased by just under $6,000 as a result of the annual adjustments. Salaries of councillors rose by $3,256.
If council approves the recommendations on Monday, there will be no increase to councillor or mayor salaries until at least January 2023.
The mayor’s annual salary is currently $206,511.29 while councillors receive $116,672.11, about 56 per cent of the mayor’s wage.
More than 700 pages of comments through a public engagement survey also influenced the recommendations, Clark said. About 75 per cent of survey respondents agreed with the total current compensation package for the mayor, while 72 per cent supported that of councillors. More than 4,000 people responded to the online survey this summer.
Much of the committee’s discussionswere about striking a balance between setting a salary appropriate for the period of fiscal restraint and ensuring it still reflects the long hours of the job to attract qualified candidates, Clark said.
In a May 2020 council survey, three of 11 respondents said they work more than 70 hours a week while eight said they work between 60 and 69 hours a week.
The committee is also recommending a more consistent compensation review process. Typically, the independent review is only conducted every two council cycles, but Clark said that doesn’t make sense under the current economic conditions.
“This speaks to the volatility of what’s happening in the Alberta economy right now. We think that it’s not fair to impose something for eight years while there could be a major swing, either positive or negative, in the economy and a new council compensation committee should be struck to look at that after four years,” she said. “It’s just not a world that’s as stable as it used to be.”
Council will also be asked to approve a “flexible spending” benefit package of $3,600 annually per councillor, which will result in an annual budget increase of $40,300. The package would replace the current $500 health spending account.