Wellesley councillors have rejected a request by senior staff to implement a three per cent cost of living increase to wages retroactive to Jan. 1, settling instead on a 2.5 per cent increase.
In a 3-2 vote at council on Tuesday night, the motion was defeated and an amendment made to adjust the wage increase to be more in line with the provincial average. According to Statistics Canada, in 2010 the consumer price index rose by 2.5 per cent in Ontario and 1.8 per cent across Canada, prompting staff to make the request to help cover rising costs such as fuel and other commodities.
The increase would apply to council, full and part-time non-union employees and any other positions employed by the township in a casual part-time or volunteer manner, including firefighters. The increase would have amounted to $32,991.66, including $493.38 for the mayor and $299.55 for each councilor.
The increases do not apply to Township of Wellesley unionized workers, as they are in their final year of a three-year contract in which council approved an across-the-board cost of living increase of 1.5 per cent each year.
The fact that the requested increase of three per cent would be more than the provincial and national average was the main sticking point for Coun. Herb Neher, prompting a discussion just before the motion was passed.
“I would like to know of all the people who got a three per cent cost of living increase in the township, because I’m not aware of any myself,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with a cost of living increase, but I think three per cent is too high. I can’t approve that.”
Neher said that since Ontario’s average increase was 2.5 per cent while also incorporating higher-cost areas such as Toronto and Ottawa, compared to the relatively lower taxes and costs of living in Wellesley, he could not justify an increase of three per cent for township employees.
“I would have one heck of a time selling that to anybody, that when the average is 2.5 per cent in Ontario, and 1.8 per cent in Canada, we should be getting three per cent. It’s that simple.
“We’re dealing with taxpayers’ money.”
As an alternative, Neher suggested the increase be reduced to 2.5 per cent to keep in line with the provincial average, and requested an amendment to the motion and a recorded vote. Councillors Neher and Jim Olender, along with Mayor Ross Kelterborn, approved the revised figure, while councillors Shelley Wagner and Paul Hergott were opposed.
Under the new agreement of 2.5 per cent, the wage increase will amount to a total of $31,342.08 ($1,606.98 for council and the mayor) for 2011, retroactive to Jan. 1.