A Sudbury city councillor who proposed a wage freeze on select public sector workers was surprised by the lack of support it received.

Late last month, Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti tabled a motion calling for staff to remove a wage increase of two per cent for all councillors and non-union staff. Most of those positions are supervisors and managers.

"I looked at that and thought, so if we can save anywhere from $550,000 or more in tax savings to the taxpayer, why wouldn't we consider that?" Signoretti said. "Especially we're all in this together. So I wasn't saying specifically non-union staff and disregard council. Put everybody into the same category."

The motion comes as the city is facing an approximately $6.57 million shortfall for 2021, which already takes into account reserve and other funding, with the total at $15.4 million. Signoretti said that the measure could help avoid any potential layoffs.

"I've talked to colleagues in the private sector and they've all indicated for me they work for companies, they've put in long hours and they haven't got a pay increase and they are fine to just have a job," said Signoretti.

However, the motion was easily defeated. Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan, who opposed the measure, said that it is unfair to ask a select group of employees to take a salary cut in order for the plurality of citizens to pay less in tax.

Number of issues

"There are a number of issues when you are taking a look at a small group of individuals and you're going to target them to reduce the tax levy for the rest of the city," said Kirwan. "It's discriminatory and in the case of the staff at the city, it's demoralizing."

Kirwan went so far as to say the measure as presented could be considered illegal, citing the motion's target of only non-unionized city staff as an example.

"Municipal taxes are not allowed to be based on income," said Kirwan. "So if you're going to reduce someone's income so you can reduce everyone else's property taxes, it's not only discriminatory, I believe it's illegal."

Signoretti said he understands that many city staff have worked extra hours over the last year and the measure was not meant to discount that. However, as a long-time businessman himself, he said he felt it was a way many, including himself, could give back.

"When I hear the private sector doing their part and not laying off people but at the same token employees happy to have just a wage freeze and keep their jobs. I thought that's the least we could provide to the community," he said.

Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc was one of only four to support the measure, saying there are many in the city who simply cannot afford a tax increase.

Can't afford increase

"We have seniors that are at home that we want to keep in their homes," said Leduc. "They can't afford these 3.9 per cent tax increase and we all have to get on board, even the employees of Sudbury."

Leduc said that he has instructed city staff to freeze his salary for the upcoming year. Last year, Leduc earned $44,152.55, with an additional $11,400.61 in additional benefits. While he admits the measure is not much, he's hopeful it will encourage some of his colleagues to follow suit.