Sault Ste. Marie City Council agreed Monday night to freeze the salaries of its non-union staff until January 1, 2018.
City Clerk Malcolm White says the one-year freeze will save $227,000 and affect 127 employees.
Councillors rejected a second resolution calling for an independent review of the city's public works department.
Both motions were introduced by Ward 3 Councillor Matthew Shoemaker and his Ward 5 counterpart Frank Fata.
"We are in, as a community, economically worse shape than we have been in a significant period of time," Shoemaker said. "Probably worse than it was during the Great Recession of 2009-2010. It seems to be hitting us in the most devastating way right now."
Shoemaker said that similar freezes were imposed by the provincial and federal governments for years after the 2009-2010 recession.
Councillor Fata argued that salaries account for 53 per cent of the city's operating budget and he said the freeze should apply to all city staff.
But Mayor Christian Provenzano countered that collective agreements must be respected.
"It is unlawful to try to apply this to unionized staff," the mayor told Fata.
"Our community isn't growing....it is contracting," the mayor said.
"I don't think City Hall can be insulated from the challenges that are in the community."
"My concern is that our spending, because of our human resource cost, is going to outpace our ability to pay for it."
"If our community isn't growing, our municipal bureaucracy shouldn't be growing," Provenzano said.
The mayor and every councillor present except Ward 1's Steve Butland supported the salary freeze.
Ward 2 Councillor Sandra Hollingsworth, Ward 4 Councillor Lou Turco and Ward 6's Joe Krmpotich did not attend Monday night's meeting.
On the issue of an independent review of the city's public works department, Ward 5 Councillor Marchy Bruni said that there should first be round-table discussions with city staff to come up with cost-saving ideas.
Based on reports from another city board, Councillor Bruni estimated that it would cost between $200,000 and $300,000 to conduct a third-party review of public works.
"I think we have to get our experts, which is our staff, a chance to come back to us," Bruni said.
Mayor Provenzano challenged Bruni's estimate of the consulting cost.
"It's always positive to have an independent set of eyes look at something," the mayor said.
Ward 6 Councillor Ross Romano said that public works was one of the most co-operative city departments when cost-cutting ideas were sought last year.
"This is privatization by the back door," said Ward 1's Steve Butland.
"There's enough bad news," Butland said. "We shouldn't be the purveyors of bad news."
Here's how councillors voted on reviewing public works:
- Frank Fata - for
- Paul Christian - against
- Judy Hupponen - against
- Matthew Shoemaker - for
- Ross Romano - against
- Rick Niro - against
- Marchy Bruni - against
- Susan Myers - against
- Steve Butland - against
- Christian Provenzano - for