MAPLETON – Council here has agreed to amend a policy that dictates staff wages be increased annually, based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) as of the end of August of the previous year.
On Sept. 12, council approved a motion from councillor Michael Martin proposing the change.
The motion, which was approved unanimously, also directs “that wage increases be proposed and discussed publicly during the annual budget process.”
In 2023, following the policy resulted in a seven per cent increase, based on the August 2022 CPI.
Conversely, two years earlier, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic impacts, staff received no increase at all based on the relevant CPI data.
Martin was critical of the policy during debate on the township’s 2023 budget and he voted against approving the budget with the increase.
At the Sept. 12 meeting, Martin noted his notice of motion presented at the Aug. 8 meeting has resulted in considerable discussion among local residents.
“I’m glad to finally actually have a chance to speak to this. I don’t think I’ve ever taken so many questions on one particular notice of motion,” said Martin.
“It was probably the way I’ve worded it, to be honest. I’m not proposing cancelling wage increases year over year.”
He added his intent was to have council change the section of the policy directly tying the wage increase to CPI.
In his remarks introducing the motion, Martin conceded the existing policy is “even worded vaguely enough that it would almost work to be honest.”
The motion refers to a section of Mapleton compensation policy that states the township will “review the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for Ontario, as of August of each year, to ensure that the township’s pay structure remains current with cost of living.”
The section further 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.”
Martin said when the police was created “I don’t think anyone really envisioned zero per cent increases going out, or 7% increases going out for that matter.
“I think if there was … a lack of policy in place, I think we’d see staff contemplating various things, including CPI, during the budget process.”
Martin added, “So instead of pushing out a 0% increase one year, if that’s what CPI happened to be for that month of August, it would allow some flexibility.
“And inevitably, whether it’s pay equity or market adjustments (increases) always come anyway every few years, so there’s always going to be a correction.”
Martin said linking the increase to CPI for a specific month is “potentially crippling on both sides.
“I think to be fair to everyone … if we could have something that’s more consistent and predictable, I think that it could work quite well internally with our staff and externally for council with the nature of the politics that we inevitably carry with us.”
Councillor Martin Tamlyn agreed it would be a good idea “to allow that kind of flexibility and all the considerations when it comes to that process of wages.”
CAO Manny Baron said staff would work to improve the process, but noted the existing policy works both ways.
“Staff will absolutely work towards coming up with something different and unique,” Baron told council.
“And, I guess I’ve got to be honest, we would have also come up with something unique if we hadn’t gotten zero before. So, I guess you live by the sword and die by the sword.”
Baron said staff accepted a zero increase in 2021 “ because we understood it was the policy.”
He noted staff were “completely open: to changing the policy.
“However, I will say the reason we didn’t come up with a solution last year to this, because there could be one, and there is one, and we have several in our heads … is because staff at the time had taken zero and as CAO of the organization I thought it was only fair that we also follow the policy when it was a little bit higher,” he added.
“Now I think everything’s evening out. COVID’s over, those economic kind of of peaks and valleys are somewhat over, we’ll happily come up with a solution that I think council will agree with.”
“I appreciate that,” said Martin.
“To be honest, I’m sensitive to that. That’s why you didn’t see this until August, September of the following year … It could look really petty if council were to suddenly change the policy during the year when staff really benefit, and yet we were more than happy to do the zeros the two years before … Timing is really important for optics for everyone.”
Mayor Gregg Davidson said he was “struggling” with the proposed change.
“I think I’m struggling with this because it’s what I’m used to. The county does it, the township does it,” said Davidson.
“When it comes to CPI and the way the policy is written, I’m pretty sure that most municipalities do it this way.”
While noting he was open to changing the policy to allow for “creativity,” Davidson said, “I just don’t know what it would be right now.”
The mayor suggested deferring the motion to have staff return with proposed changes “that would keep in the idea of what this is and open up with the idea of having some creativity put forward.”
Davidson also pointed out, “At the end of the day it’s council (that) will approve the annual cost of living adjustment through the budget process.
“Council has that final decision. So even if staff were to be creative, we’d still have the final decision to say we’re going to go with CPI, or we go with the creative version.
“It’s up to council to decide what the wage increase is going to be, if anything.”
Davidson pointed out council had “that fulsome discussion around the last budget cycle” and “points were made in both sides.
“I’m just struggling with taking this out completely. I think maybe it needs be massaged and I’d like to see it massaged and brought back to council,” he stated.
“I’d be happy with that. I just don’t want to see August on that line. I don’t want to see a specific month outlined as far as COLA (cost-of-living adjustment) goes.
“That’s all, it can be massaged or deleted or tweaked or whatever. It’s too limiting the way it reads right now.”
Davidson took issue with the wording of Martin’s motion, which called for council to “repeal or cancel” the policy.
“Can we add something to this get rid of that specific month and that staff come back with some options?” he suggested.
Martin said removing the words “as of August of each year” from the policy statement would satisfy the intent of the motion.
Township finance director John Morrison noted, “The reason the August date came into being is I need enough time to put together a budget and the August date appeared to be a reasonable number to get for CPI and then allow me to present the financial statements to council.”
Prior to adopting the August date, Morriston said the finance department had been using an October CPI figure.
“That’s not enough time for me to prepare a budget,” he stated.
“I would still argue that we would probably be urging council to ensure that the tax rates are going up by CPI because, in the long run, historical practice indicates that is the best practice to reduce the overall tax burden over a decade or so,” Morrison said.
Tamlyn noted the existing policy states “council will approve any annual cost of living process through the budget process,” but pointed out “there’s still deliberations in that in regard to the budget process.”
“This allows council to make those adjustments,” he said.
“If we wanted to, we could have, in our last budget process, said, ‘No, we’re not going to go with seven. We’re going to go with three.’
“That line allows council to make the final decision. It doesn’t say that council must go with whatever the CPI is.”
Councillor Amanda Reid agreed the policy “kind of pigeon-holed us in a sense, having that date there, because we’re only looking at that month, when really the creativity of looking at maybe the whole year for someone who’s trying to budget makes more sense.”
Davidson again suggested postponing the discussion and asking staff to bring back recommendations for wording a policy change.
“Unless somebody else defers it, I think it’s clear enough … that it is the August piece that’s the issue with this motion,” said Martin.
“To John’s concern, I get it. As far as I’m concerned, use August. I don’t care. I just don’t want it in the policy.
“You can justify that based on your financial planning. Works for me. I just don’t want it written it in the policy.”
At Davidson’s suggestion, the mover and seconder agreed to amend the motion to state the policy would be amended, rather than cancelled/repealed.
The amended motion passed unanimously.