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City councillors freeze their pay

The preliminary city budget calling for a 5.23 percent levy increase has already been pared by municipal staff, who are now proposing a 4.51 percent hike.
Photo illustration by David Helwig, with apologies to The Walt Disney Company, Frozen and Queen Elsa of Arendelle.

Members of Sault Ste. Marie City Council voted unanimously tonight to freeze their honoraria, cell-phone and car allowances.

Passed at the end of a three-hour budget session, the resolution also applies to Mayor Christian Provenzano.

It will be effective for the 2016 and 2017 calendar years.

Citing low oil prices, illegal steel dumping and hundreds of recent layoffs, the resolution drafted by Councillors Paul Christian and Matthew Shoemaker said the city must lead by example in "tightening its financial belt in solidarity with our residents who are experiencing economic hardship."

Tonight's meeting was the first of five of what are expected to be tough sessions aimed at paring a preliminary budget that originally indicated a 5.23 percent levy increase.

By tonight, city staff had recommended options that reduced the proposed increase to 4.51 percent.

If surpluses or reserve funds are applied to that amount, the levy hike could be as little as 2.51 percent. 

"These budget deliberations are unprecedented in terms of what we're expecting city staff and operations to accomplish," said Ward 1 Councillor Christian.

"It's not a great deal of money, but it is very, very important," Christian said. 

"We cannot ask everybody to tighten their belts if we don't do it ourselves. It starts with us. We have to set the pace. We have to lead by example."

Ward 3 Councillor Shoemaker came to the meeting with press clippings from a city budget session in 2002, when Essar Steel Algoma predecessor Algoma Steel entered Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act protection.

Council held the line on property taxes that year, with then-Ward 2 Councillor Brady Irwin arguing that he couldn't have supported anything more than a zero percent increase that year, in view of the sacrifices made by many other Saultites.     

"It seems unlikely this year that we'll get to zero percent, although that should be the ultimate objective in any year," Shoemaker said.

Shoemaker and Ward 4 Councillor Rick Niro introduced a related motion asking that salaries of non-unionized city staff be frozen for two years at the current levels. 

Councillors decided not to vote on that motion until staff input is received.

"There might be some specific agreements that cannot be frozen," Shoemaker conceded. "'s time that we shared a bit of the difficulties that the community is going through."

In other news, councillors learned that the museum ship Norgoma will open again for the 2016 season.

City staff warned tonight that uncertainty over the Norgoma's status is making it difficult to plan needed changes to the Roberta Bondar Marina. 

The budget deliberations continue at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.