Calgary’s mayor and city councillors will keep an automatic pay increase this year after no attempts to freeze or cut the salary bump during a meeting at city hall Tuesday.
A mandated pay increase of 2.41 per cent automatically kicked in at the beginning of the year, which follows a formula approved by an independent compensation review committee back in 2020.
That formula ties council salaries to the increase or decrease in Albertans’ average weekly earnings data from Statistics Canada.
The increase means the mayor’s pay had a $5,029 increase, totalling to $213,737, while Calgary’s 14 city councillors now make $120,755, up $2,841 from last year.
City councillors received a briefing from city administration on the pay bump during Tuesday’s council meeting, after finding out about the increase via email in December.
Mayor Jyoti Gondek told council the briefing was to help newer councillors understand how council compensation is determined, as well as provide an opportunity to make changes.
“If a member of council wishes to make some alternate recommendations, this is the way to do it,” Gondek told councillors.
Several councillors took issue with the automatic pay raise and indicated they’d support a freeze or even reduction to their salaries.
“I don’t blame Calgarians for reaching out to us and taking it personally that we see a little bit more money on our paycheques and they don’t,” Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp said.
However, no one brought forward a motion to support a freeze or cut to council pay.
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Instead, several councillors said they intended to donate their pay increase to local charities.
“I don’t know why members of council didn’t bring anything forward,” Gondek said to reporters. “During the debate, we heard some of them say ‘we should take a pay freeze or we should take a pay cut’ and yet they didn’t bring a motion forward; as the chair, I can’t bring a motion.”
2024 marks the third consecutive year of salary bumps for Calgary’s mayor and council after salaries were frozen by the previous council in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
According to city administration, the current council’s salary has increased by 6.4 per cent since they were elected.
City officials also noted that the mayor’s pay was cut by six per cent in 2017, while both council and mayor salaries saw a 0.8 per cent reduction in 2018.
Kris Sims, Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said the lack of an effort to reverse the salary increase is disappointing and contributes to poor optics.
“It’s really disappointing to see a lack of leadership when it comes to things like scheduled pay increases for city politicians,” Sims told Global News. “It is incumbent upon the actual city councillors themselves to speak up; they need to walk the talk if they want to actually save people money.”
Sims said council’s pay bump months after the most recent budget adjustments included a 7.8 per cent property tax increase is a source of frustration for many Calgarians.
“A lot of everyday working people in Calgary are feeling pretty down. They’re struggling to pay for rent, to pay for their mortgage, to pay for groceries, for fuel, for home heating,” Sims said. “The last thing they want to see is well-heeled politicians looking the other way while giving themselves a pay raise.”
Criticisms that Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong said he understood, adding he was surprised there were no attempts to make any changes.
“I think the public was looking for something to be put on the floor today, and I was looking for the same as well,” Wong said.
Ward 13 Coun. Dan McLean said he didn’t bring forward a motion to freeze the salaries after a previous attempt in 2021 was defeated.
“I don’t think we should waste people’s time on things when it’s a preordained conclusion or outcome,” McLean said. “I didn’t bring it because I knew it would fail.”
During the debate, Ward 5 Coun. Raj Dhaliwal said it’s up to councillors to watch their own spending if they’re concerned with the pay bump.
“As councillors we need to look at every penny of taxpayers money we spend on travel, on meals, on everything,” Dhaliwal told council. “That’s the real way of helping Calgarians; not just politicking over this increase.”
Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott said he is concerned with how the public service can attract people from diverse backgrounds when things like salary are so heavily scrutinized.
“I always wonder how we’ll ever appropriately attract people from various backgrounds in life… If a city councillor in a city of 1.4 million falls under such scrutiny when an independent body separate from council, filled with citizens and peers, determine that our pay should be reflective of an average,” Walcott said. “Donate, don’t donate, you earn the money.”
City administration said a new independent committee will be struck later this year to review the formula that determines council compensation.
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