Mayor Kennedy Stewart and the city’s 10 councillors were unanimous Tuesday in their decision to take a 10 per cent pay cut to help offset some of the loss in the city’s revenues caused by the pandemic.
The move was expected with the mayor announcing in mid-April that he would take a cut to match reductions taken by management and other non-union staff.
Seven councillors later told Glacier Media they would agree to a 10 per cent reduction to their base salaries of $88,250 each.
“It’s just a very sad time in our city, there’s a lot going on, but I do think of the folks that are laid off and also the folks that work so hard for us that have taken a salary cut,” said Stewart, whose salary this year is $178,265. “So anything I can do to show solidarity in this, I’m happy to do that.”
The cuts translate to a savings of about $108,000, which councillors acknowledged in previous interviews is not a lot of money when considering the city is losing $4 million to $5 million per week in revenues.
Those revenues are largely connected to the city suspending parking enforcement in most of Vancouver and closures of community centres, theatres and other facilities and programs to adhere to pandemic-related public health orders.
The loss in revenue forced the city to lay off 1,800 union employees while management and other non-union staff took a mandatory 10 per cent cut to their salaries in the form of an unpaid day off every 10 days.
Coun. Melissa De Genova acknowledged the pay cut is more symbolic than financially meaningful, but agreed with the mayor that it was important to “stand in solidarity” with other city staff affected by cuts and layoffs.
“It breaks my heart and it saddens me that hundreds of our staff have been laid off,” she said.
The city has negotiated agreements with its unions that provide for periods of pay protection for employees who were laid off. City manager Sadhu Johnston told council the pay cuts to staff will likely be in effect until the end of the year.
“Currently, we’ve indicated that staff should plan for the rest of the year [to be cut], but if conditions improve quicker, then it would be revisited,” said Johnston, who is also affected by the cuts.
The city employs about 1,100 management and other non-union staff.
Meanwhile, council also voted Tuesday to defer property taxes due in July until Sept. 30 to give taxpayers a few extra months to pay their bills.
Agreeing to that grace period, which council signaled several weeks ago that it would likely occur, comes after the mayor commissioned an independent online survey of taxpayers in early April.
The survey found that 25 per cent of respondents said they could only afford to pay half of their 2020 property tax bills, while six per cent said they couldn’t afford any amount.
A city staff report pointed out that every 10 per cent of taxpayers who don’t pay their bills means a loss of $110 million to the city.
It was $130 million until the provincial government announced this month a deferment of the provincial school tax, which will ease the city’s cash-flow problems.
The Research Co. survey also revealed that 32 per cent of respondents said they couldn’t pay their full mortgage in March, while 30 per cent of renters failed to pay their full rent.
Council heard from city staff Tuesday that if public health restrictions are lifted by the end of May, the impact to the operating budget would be $61 million.
If restrictions continue until the end of August, the hit on the budget would be $110 million. That would increase to $189 million, if restrictions remain in place by Christmas.