Amid mass layoffs, Halifax mayor and councillor take COVID-19 paycuts

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WATCH: The Halifax Regional Municipality slashed 1,500 positions on Wednesday and is now hoping that the provincial and federal governments will offer financial aid. Elizabeth McSheffrey has more. – Apr 16, 2020

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage and Coun. Richard Zurawski have both volunteered to cut their pay cheques as thousands of their constituents face layoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Savage said he’s been planning to shave 20 per cent off of his salary since late March, and Zurawski, who represents Timberlea-Beechwood-Clayton Park-Wedgewood, announced on Thursday that he would take 10 per cent from his.

“I make a decent income compared to many people in the municipality we live in,” said Savage.

“I see businesses closed down, I see people who have lost their work, a lot of sacrifices being made, and I just thought it was appropriate that I should do that.”

Savage said he never intended for to go public with his pay cut, but revealed it when asked directly by reporters.

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READ MORE: Halifax to lay off 1,480 casual, seasonal employees after deferring tax collection until June

Zurawski posted his decision on Facebook and said he’ll be docking 10 per cent from his pay cheque for the remainder of the 2020 term.

“We sit there and make financial decisions as council, which has a visceral impact on our constituents, potential employees and employees,” he explained. “I’m in the fortunate position where I can back, so it occurred to me that it would be a socially responsible thing to do.”

Neither elected official challenged others to follow suit, saying it was a personal decision.

On Wednesday, the HRM laid off nearly 1,500 casual and seasonal employees after deferring the collection of property taxes from April to at last the end June. Taxes represent roughly 80 per cent of the municipality’s revenue, said Savage, and public transit makes up most of the rest.

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With no fares, parking meter fees or incoming cash from recreational programs, the city’s revenue has all but dried up. It only keeps between two and three months-worth of cash in stock, said Savage, adding that the HRM will rely heavily the provincial and federal governments for support.

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Municipal government’s are legally unable to operate on deficits long-term, unlike other orders of government.

“We don’t have that flexibility, so we want to defer people’s taxes for those who need help, and we’re going to have to do it through a combination of loans and direct government assistance,” he explained.

“I would say this — that anybody who can afford to pay their taxes, please pay your taxes.”

Savage and Zurawski said the HRM is fortunate that it was in a strong financial position before the pandemic started.

READ MORE: Nursing homes hiring those recently laid off to maintain staffing levels

All of Nova Scotia’s 49 municipalities are struggling to pay the bills during the outbreak and turning to Ottawa for help.

The Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities said it’s in active negotiation with both its federal and provincial counterparts to get mayors the support they need. Pam Mood, its president and the mayor of Yarmouth, said she’s not sure what kind of package is on its way, but “everything has been on the table.”

‘I’m really hoping in the next week to 10 days that we will have something for municipalities,” she told Global News. “We’re just working through some options now and I think what’s most important is that it works for all municipalities, because we’re all different.”

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

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