Saint John common council will consider changes to how city staff receive raises in an effort to curb the city’s mounting structural deficit.
On Wednesday Saint John’s finance committee passed a draft wage escalation policy that would cap wage increases with the three-year average of tax assessment growth.
Councillor David Merrithew, who also sits on the city’s finance committee, says the city needs “to make one equal the other.”
“If the tax base grows by X, then we should increase wages by X or less,” he said.
According a staff report presented to the committee, 58 per cent of the city’s operating budget is tied up in wages and benefits, and over the next decade that percentage is expected to grow. If current projections hold, the report says that wages will account for two-thirds of the operating budget in 10 years time.
“The Wage Escalation Policy is an important component of a Long-Term Financial Plan because it will help address one of the major causes of the city’s structural deficit by ensuring that the city spends within its means,” reads the report.
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Merrithew says the policy is a way to give staff raises that won’t break the bank.
“We don’t want to not give our folks a raise, we want to give them a raise that we can afford, that the citizens that pay the bill can afford. That’s what we’re trying to do,” he said.
The plan is not as popular with the Saint John Police Association. Const. Duane Squires says police in the city want to compensated at a level comparable with other jurisdictions.
“We do the same job, we’re the busiest police force in the province, we answer the most calls for service, we are the biggest right now, but our number keeps dropping,” he said.
“A lot comes with that. We have a high poverty rate in Saint John, lots of mental health calls that we’re dealing with, so we compare ourselves to other police officers.”
Squires worries that the city will use the policy to avoid the binding arbitration that stands in for the force’s right to strike.
“We don’t see that system as being flawed, you know, we have to advocate for our members and get the best deal that we can,” he said.
The draft policy will come before council in the near future.