Wyatt wants councillors’ ward budgets hiked

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City councillors will consider a proposal to boost their own ward allowances by about $74,000 annually, which supporters say is desperately needed to help them retain staff.

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City councillors will consider a proposal to boost their own ward allowances by about $74,000 annually, which supporters say is desperately needed to help them retain staff.

Coun. Russ Wyatt’s call to raise the annual office budget to $159,000 from $84,924 is set for debate in January.

“We want to bring it in line with other municipalities in Canada. Right now… we have a very low allowance, we have a very high turnover when it comes to our assistants (due to a lower budget to compensate them). In the last number of years, it’s well over 50 per cent (turnover),” said Wyatt.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Coun. Russ Wyatt’s call to raise the annual office budget to $159,000 from $84,924 is set for debate in January.

Ward allowances fund everything from staff salaries and benefits to office supplies. Wyatt believes that annual budget should increase on Feb. 1, 2023, to include: $89,000 for staffing (salary, benefits and vacation pay); $30,000 for possible constituency offices; and $40,000 for all other permitted expenses.

In a comparison with Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, Wyatt says Winnipeg city councillors have the lowest per capita ward allowance funding.

Several councillors have insisted in recent years that a lack of resources impedes their ability to keep staff, who are critical in helping them respond to constituent concerns.

Wyatt said a higher allowance would also allow some councillors to open offices in their constituencies, which could help make them and their assistants more available to residents.

A smaller ward allowance hike proved controversial in the past. Council raised it by $40,000 in 2013, when Wyatt was finance chairman, citing similar concerns. That increase arrived as the city cut non-profit grants and raised taxes, which sparked public backlash.

Council then cut the number by $37,000 in 2014, though annual inflationary increases have increased it since then.

In an email Thursday, Wyatt said that history shows the change has been needed for some time.

“It’s a good and long overdue idea now,” he said.

Wyatt’s motion notes the 2022 budget includes funding for a pension plan for councillors’ office staff but one has yet to be implemented.

Mayor Scott Gillingham said he supports some increase to ward allowances, which he expects would help councillors better serve residents.

“I’m supportive of council receiving more resources for their offices. I haven’t determined what level of increase I’d be comfortable with,” said Gillingham.

He noted the city has significant financial challenges due to COVID-19, inflation and other issues.

“We’re in a challenging economic time as well, so I think every decision that we make has to be made with (consideration) of the financial challenges that we’re facing,” said Gillingham.

The mayor said city staff is still working on pension options for councillors’ executive assistants.

Joyanne.pursaga@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga
Reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

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