Motion to rollback staff and council wages fails in split vote

by Colin Smith

There will be no wage rollback for Morinville non-unionized staff and Council members this year.

A motion calling for a rollback by Councillor Rebecca Balanko was defeated by Council at its regular meeting Tuesday.

Balanko made the motion following the presentation of an Administration report setting out the budgetary savings that would be achieved through a 1% to 5% wage rollback for July 1 through December 31, 2021.

The report was called for by a motion passed by Council at its May 11 meeting and presented by Michelle Hay, General Manager of Administrative Services, and Trish Pretzlaw, Manager of Human Services.

It indicated that a 5% wage rollback for non-unionized Town staff and Council members combined would result in budgetary savings of $174,983. Savings of $104,959 would be produced by a 3% rollback, and $35,040 in savings by a 1% rollback.

Balanko’s motion was for a 5% rollback.

“We’ve all been hit hard with COVID,” Balanko said. “But listening to overages and things that are going to be postponed and cancelled, and running deficit after deficit, I just feel like maybe there is an opportunity to do something to be better.

“I was thinking about our parks. With $160,000 to look at repairing Grandin Park, if we were to make this 5% rollback that gets us our park back.”

Balanko also declared, “I think about how many people in my day-to-day life have been hit economically and face challenges. I just feel if it is okay for our residents it needs to be okay for our staff.”

Councillor Sarah Hall voiced her opposition to the motion.

“I’m not in favour of punishing our staff, who’ve already been through so much,” she said. “And so many of the staff live right here in Town. Those are the residents that you are talking about. They pay their taxes here, they work hard, they have pride.

“What is going to happen to that pride when we just take it away on a whim. Morale is already at a low.”

Stephen Dafoe subsequently moved an amendment to change the proposed rollback from 5% to 3%.

“We’re talking about a savings of $100,000, which is roughly 1% of the tax base,” he said. “Everybody has to make cuts. Municipal wages are considered to be better than in the private sector, generally speaking. I find a 3% rollback more palatable than five.

“We do have this operational deficit and it isn’t just related to COVID,” Dafoe noted in addition. “These operational deficits and combined budget things have been going on for years because we haven’t addressed operational spending. We have a revenue problem but we also have a spending problem.”

The amendment passed six to one, with Deputy Mayor Nicole Boutestein in opposition.

Speaking to the amended motion, Mayor Barry Turner referred to the fact that Council did not approve a cost of living increase for Town staff and Council in 2021.

“We’ve already frozen wages in 2021 and I think that’s plenty far enough,” he said. “We do have a deficit, but we need to find another way to address this.”

Councillor Lawrence Giffin pointed to the Town’s compensation policy, which aims to position wages and salaries at the midpoint of those paid by other municipalities.

“I believe being at the 50th percentile is very reasonable,” he said.

Added Giffin, “Morale is very fragile and along with reduction of morale you get a reduction of productivity, and that’s proven. I feel that even talking about this has affected morale, so I won’t support this motion.”

In the final vote the rollback motion was defeated four-to-three, with Balanko, Dafoe and Richardson in favour and Turner, Boutestein, Giffin and Hall opposed.

The Administration report identified a number of possible issues related to the wage rollback including workload imbalance, negative impacts on morale, loss of progress in maintaining compensation program targets and reduced ability to recruit and retain a skilled workforce.

Council voted to receive it as information.