Mapleton alters approach to staff cost-of-living increases

New policy averages CPI data, caps yearly increases at 4%

MAPLETON – Annual cost-of-living increases for township staff here will be based on average Consumer Price Index (CPI) figures for the previous 12 months ending in August of each year, but will be capped at four per cent in any given year.

Council approved the decision in a motion passed on Nov. 14, which also specifies:

  • if the formula results in a negative percentage, the pay grid will remain the same as the previous year; and
  • if the formula results in an increase greater than 4%, the pay grid will be increased by 4%, but in the following year any shortage will be added to that year’s increase.

The move resulted from a call to review the policy by councillor Michael Martin.

During 2023 budget deliberations, Martin objected to the existing compensation policy that suggests staff wages be increased annually, based on the CPI as of the end of August of the previous year.

In 2023, following the policy resulted in a 7% increase based on the August 2022 CPI.

Conversely, two years earlier, at the height of COVID-19 pandemic impacts, staff received no increase at all based on the relevant CPI data.

The policy states, “The pay grid structure may be adjusted by CPI to maintain internal equity. Council will approve any annual cost of living adjustment through the budgeting process.”

On Sept. 12, council approved a motion presented by Martin directing staff to revise the policy by eliminating the month of August as a benchmark and conduct further research and present alternative options for the current policy.

A report presented at the Nov. 14 meeting provided three options. In addition to the approved policy, other options in the report included:

  • option two: keep the current policy which includes the month of August but add the clauses from option one dealing with a negative CPI, or CPI over 4%; and
  • option three: follow the County of Wellington’s compensation policy and mirror the county’s yearly wage increase for non-union employees.

“The county has a few things that they use: [CPI], general provincial minimum wage, annual economic adjustments from other markets and things,” explained Mapleton CAO Manny Baron.

“So there’s a variety of points that they use. But there are some municipalities that just choose to go with their upper tier.”

Councillor Marlene Ottens expressed a preference for option one, which was ultimately selected.

“I like the averaging out, rather than sticking with just one month because it does adjust for the fact that a month that we happen to choose could have a spike for who-knows-what reason. And that it tops at 4% – I like that too,” she stated.

Martin said the intent of his Sept. 12 motion was “to leave this particular policy vague intentionally,” to provide flexibility.

“And now we’re back again to creating a policy that’s very pinpoint with the number,” he added.

Martin said he intended for the policy to be vague, “so that the director of finance and the CAO could make a proposal when budget time came and justify it based on whatever rationale.”

“I don’t disagree with councillor Ottens, option one, but …we’ve seen in the last five years a … big swing in CPI from month to month even,” Martin stated.

“So, I’d be perfectly comfortable leaving the policy as it currently is and then revisit that specific increase each budget year.”

Ottens replied, “Being vague is sort of difficult because you’re asking staff to make recommendations about their own wage increases, whereas I feel like we were elected to provide guidance on these sorts of things.”

She continued, “Providing this very specific guideline (makes it) a lot easier for staff to come back to us with suggestions rather than having some open ended ‘we’ll see’ policy.

“This way they know exactly where it’s going and exactly how much it (CPI) will be and exactly what to recommend. So that’s why I like defined parameters in things rather than vague ones.”

Councillor Amanda Reid said, “I agree with councillor Ottens that at least looking at the average gives a target number. And I also agree that capping it at 4% is reasonable.

“So I think right now, I’d be leaning probably towards option one.”

Mayor Gregg Davidson said the decision is “a tough one for all of us,” noting he sees merit in both positions.

“We have two that are looking at option number one and I’m going to look at option number one as well. Being that we can get that (average CPI) number and cap it at 4%,” the mayor stated.

A motion to approve option one from the staff report was approved and the change will be implemented through the township’s 2024 to 2026 budget bylaw.

Davidson, Ottens and Reid voted in favour of the motion, with Martin opposed and councillor Martin Tamlyn absent.