The municipality’s newly elected deputy mayor is starting his term off with a bang.
Steve Craig will bring forward a motion at council’s next meeting asking for a report and recommendations from the CAO’s office on changing how the mayor and councillors are paid.
He’s tried this move before. In 2014, it was Craig who requested an independent committee examine HRM’s compensation for elected officials. Two years later that committee came back with a report advising council to—amongst other things—freeze current pay levels and tie salaries to the average full-time income of HRM residents.
That idea was shot down by a close vote of 8-7 after several hours of heated debate back in March.
Craig wants another shot, though, and he’s hoping a new council and a new CAO will see value in bringing the discussion back from the dead.
“I’m persistent, if nothing else,” says Craig. “Now we’ve got a new council. We’ve got six new council members. They might have a different view.”
Some might; others won’t. Dartmouth South–Eastern Passage councillor Bill Karsten was left “speechless” by Craig’s notice of motion on Tuesday evening. Back in March, Halifax–Bedford Basin West councillor Russell Walker called the salary report a “flawed process,” while mayor Mike Savage told reporters the recommendations were “not based on science or evidence; it’s just arbitrary.” Others took issue with council making any sort of decision on its own payment system.
“Some did express that in the past,” says Craig. “My view is, nobody else is going to do it. We get paid to make tough decisions. We get paid to be objective, and hopefully we’ll look at this through objective eyes.”
Council’s pay is currently set through a complex formula comparing salaries in other Canadian cities, using a weighted average from “comparable” municipalities plus 50 percent of the difference between that average and the highest payment levels. It’s meant to make HRM competitive, but relies heavily on population data and ignores any economic disparity.
The compensation committee—consisting of former municipal auditor general Larry Munroe, Gerry Walsh, Saint Mary’s president Colin Dodds, lawyer Cheryl Hodder and manager Amy MacIsaac—found “there was not sufficient justification” to continue with that formula. They instead recommended tying compensation to the average full-time Halifax salary (plus 25 percent). As council’s already being paid more than that, the committee recommended freezing current salaries until the rest of HRM caught up.
Salaries for HRM’s councillors have increased 11 percent over the last six years, outpacing both inflation and raises for municipal workers. Last year the mayor earned $176,033, while councillors were paid $82,652. An annual raise, retroactive to November 1, is still being calculated by city hall staff and will take effect on November 24.