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Morinville town council defeats staff wage cut

Cut would crush morale and services, says Giffin
morinville town hall stk CC 5251
Mayor Barry Turner said the town is coming out of the pandemic and will need staff to be at peak performance as it ramps up to normal services.  FILE PHOTO/St. Albert Gazette

Morinville town council has voted down a proposal to slash staff wages by three per cent out of concern it would crush people’s spirits. 

Morinville councillors voted 3-4 against a motion to cut council and non-unionized staff wages by three per cent for the rest of 2021 during their regular June 8 meeting (councillors Rebecca Balanko, Stephen Dafoe, and Scott Richardson in favour).  

The motion came out of last month’s decision to cancel plans to repair the town’s tennis courts and replace the Grandin Heights and South Glens playgrounds to fund repairs to the town’s splash park.  

Balanko, who opposed the splash-park decision, asked for a report on what the town would save if all non-unionized town staff took a one- to five-per-cent wage rollback for 2021. 

The report showed the town would save about $33,000 to $167,000 if it cut the wages of the its 146 non-union employees by one to five per cent for the latter half of 2021. A similar cut to council wages would save about $1,600 to $8,200. 

Administration presented council with information from the provincial government showing that about 36 per cent of the town’s expenditures last year went toward wages, which put Morinville in the middle of the pack compared to nine other area governments.  

Town chief administrative officer Stephane Labonne noted the town’s expenditures per capita were the second-lowest among Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board members, and 54th highest amongst 74 medium-sized Alberta municipalities examined by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.  

Council heard that all staff and elected officials were under a wage freeze this year, and that the town aimed to keep wages at the regional median under its pay policies. Staff had also been through repeated layoffs and redeployments and increased workloads during the pandemic, with Labonne noting he was personally aware of three staff families who had lost jobs in the last year. 

Savings debate 

Balanko moved to cut council and non-unionized staff wages by five per cent for the latter half of 2021, which would save about $175,000. 

Balanko said the recent discovery of 215 children buried at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School got her thinking of the town’s parks, and said these savings could fund the replacement of the Grandin Heights park.  

“I just feel we have an opportunity to do something here that’s important.”  

While everyone has been hit hard by the pandemic, and while many town employees lived in Morinville, Balanko said this move was needed if the town was to address its operational deficit.  

“The bottom line here is, it’s not personal, it’s business.” 

Coun. Sarah Hall opposed the cut and criticized Balanko for using the Kamloops discovery for political purposes. Many town staffers were town residents, and morale was already at a low due to the pandemic and recent administrative changes. 

“I’m not in favour of punishing our staff who have already been through so much,” she said.  

Coun. Nicole Boutestein noted this move would amount to a 7.2-per-cent cut when combined with this year’s wage freeze, and ran against council’s goals to bring wages to the regional median. 

Dafoe won 6-1 support (Boutestein opposed) to reduce this cut to three per cent, which would save about $105,000.  

“Municipal wages are significantly higher in the public sector than in the private sector,” he said, and these savings would help address the town’s operational deficit. 

Coun. Lawrence Giffin said it was reasonable to keep town wages at the regional median, and that a cut could mean lower morale and service levels. 

“I fear that even talking about this has affected morale.” 

Mayor Barry Turner said the town is coming out of the pandemic and will need staff to be at peak performance as it ramps up to normal services.  

“We’ve already frozen wages in 2021, and I think that’s enough.” 

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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