After delaying the vote for almost a month, Thompson city council passed a resolution to raise wages for its 21 executive staff employees at their Aug. 13 regular meeting.
Similar to other contentious issues that are brought before this council, the resolution passed by a vote of 6−3, with councillors Ron Matechuk, Duncan Wong and Judy Kolada voting against it.
Many of the arguments for and against this $24,790.76 increase in funds echoed the debate that took place a year ago, when council approved another 1.25 per cent increase on Aug. 14, 2017.
City manager Gary Ceppetelli said this raise is an annual resolution that mirrors the increases unionized city employees negotiated in their collective bargaining agreements.
Coun. Kathy Valentino, having given a financial statement presentation earlier in the meeting, said this resolution was more of a formality, since council already approved this pay bump through their 2017−18 budget.
“We’ve already budgeted for this,” she said. "We’ve already had our statements audited, submitted to the province … the money’s already been accounted for.”
However, Matechuk argued that giving executive staff any kind of raise is a bad idea when Thompson is going through tough financial times, including a reduced grant-in-lieu agreement with Vale that’s going to reduce city revenues by millions over the next four years.
“It makes no sense that we’re giving executives raises at this time,” he said on Aug. 13. “Am I missing something? Is this a departing gift to our executive?”
Kolada backed up this sentiment by saying that council shouldn’t just adhere to tradition and pass this resolution simply because they’ve been doing it for the last couple years.
“And certainly, at this point in time, we have to be watching our money,” she said. “I think we have to start now and I won’t be supporting [this resolution] and it has nothing to do with me not appreciating our staff.”
Coun. Penny Byer countered by saying that they need to pass this salary increase precisely because of the financial hurdles the city is going to be facing on the horizon.
“We are expecting our executive staff to put more time and effort into helping us with a very difficult year that we’ve got coming ahead of us, and if we’re going to be expecting more effort I think a 1.25 per cent [increase] is probably not enough to buy them a breakfast somewhere.”
Wong also voiced his opposition to the resolution by saying that these increases should be based on individual merit and not doled out across the board.
Mayor Dennis Fenske had the last word, saying that councillors cannot arbitrarily pick and choose what motions they want to support.
He referenced council’s decision to reject a cost-cutting measure to give their entire staff 10 unpaid days off, which he said would have saved the city around half-a-million dollars.
“This council chose to go in another direction and that’s the decision of council. That’s fine,” he said. “But understand, on one hand you said ‘No, we don’t want to save $500,000,’ but now we want to make a big issue out of $13,000. You can’t have it both ways.”
Executive staff shuffle
In addition to adjusting their pay, council also passed a resolution that reclassified a couple of positions on their executive staff.
On top of reclassifying the roles of the Norplex pool manager and the director of public works in the management structure, recently retired long-time city employee Wayne Koversky will fulfill the role of facilities manager on a temporary basis in order to get the C.A. Nesbitt Arena ready for the upcoming ice sports season.
“Mr. Koversky has been a supervisor for many years with the City of Thompson,” said Ceppetelli, referencing his four-decade long run with the municipality. “So he is more than adequate and qualified to lead the necessary personnel in the rec department in order to ensure that we are getting facilities up and ready for public use.”
Koversky’s contract with the city was approved by a familiar vote of 6−3, with Matechuk, Wong and Kolada voting opposed once again.
Council will resume their bi-weekly meeting schedule following their Sept. 4 meeting at City Hall.