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Calgary councillor calls for salary freeze as report forecasts ‘bleak fiscal future for Alberta’

Calgary city councillors call for salary freezes ahead of budget debate
WATCH: Two Calgary councilors are calling for salary freezes with city budget deliberations underway. As Tracy Nagai reports, they both believe it's important to lead by example.

As Calgary city councillors prepare to head into a week of budget deliberations on a strict proposal presented last week, one councillor is calling for another measure to be considered — freezing his and the rest of his counterparts’ salaries.

In a news release Wednesday, Ward 11 Councillor Jeromy Farkas said he’ll be filing a motion on Monday, ahead of budget deliberations, asking for council to “freeze their pay for the remainder of the term and accept any further reductions if they are recommended by an independent citizen committee.”

Farkas’ move comes a day after a report from the University of Calgary painted a “bleak path ahead” for Alberta’s economy and recommended the provincial government take measures like a 17 per cent cut or adding a 10 per cent sales tax to stimulate recovery — both options which Premier Rachel Notley said were not acceptable.

READ MORE: 4 things to know about Calgary’s proposed four-year budget

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“My hope is that this pay freeze will mark a change in tone and a return to reality for city hall,” Farkas said, adding the current salary model is “simply not sustainable.”

“As Calgarians suffer through one of the worst economic recessions in recent history, their representatives at city hall should do everything possible not to add to their burdens.

In its budget presented to councillors last week, Calgary city administration proposed a number of hikes to deal with the ailing economy, including a 3.5 per cent property tax increase and increases to things like user fees for waste and recycling services, as well as Calgary Transit tickets and passes.

The city is also struggling to find a solution to the high downtown vacancy rate and the subsequent need to raise property taxes for businesses outside the downtown core.

READ MORE: Proposed city budget could hit businesses outside downtown Calgary the hardest

The current base salary for Calgary councillors is $113,400, according to a similar notice of motion drafted by Councillor Ward Sutherland that was set to be put before council on Dec. 17.

Sutherland tweeted his motion on Wednesday morning, saying he’d discussed the proposal with several councillors and filed it in the city’s system already and called Farkas’ remarks into question.

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Several councillors, including Jeff Davison and Joe Magliocca, tweeted they’d support Sutherland’s motion.

“Under the economic environment, it only makes sense that we don’t take a raise,” Sutherland said Wednesday.

When it comes to Farkas announcing intentions to file a similar motion and whether that would go forward, Sutherland said: “that’s a good question for him.”

“I’m still puzzled as to why he doesn’t use the system,” he said. “I did check, there is no motion filed. I talked to councillors already and I filed the motion.”

Farkas said he’s optimistic to see other councillors come out in support of a pay freeze, adding his motion differs from Sutherland’s in its timing.

“Setting the tone early, before the budget debate, is really the way to go,” he said.

“If we’re asking Calgarians to do more with the same, or even do more with less, we need to be able to lead by example.

“If we are going to tackle property taxes and spending at city hall, we need to look at our major cost driver, so more than 50 per cent of our spending goes to salaries, wages, benefits and overtime.”

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READ MORE: Calgary city council taking a pay cut in 2017

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he has taken a significant pay cut in the past few years and councillors have seen smaller ones.

“That said, we rise and fall on the economy. That was the decision that council had made and I see no reason to change that because ultimately, politicians shouldn’t control their own salaries,” Nenshi said.

According to Sutherland’s notice of motion, in the last five years, councillors have seen 0.42 per cent in combined increases to their salaries, which included two decreases in years 2016 and 2017.

Councillors have their pay adjusted at the start of each calendar year, according to Farkas.

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