Pelham Town Council received the proposed 2023 operating budget last week, presented by Director of Corporate Services and Treasurer Teresa Quinlin-Murphy, and Manager Financial Services and Deputy Treasurer Usama Seraj.
The proposed budget reaches almost $22 million dollars, an increase of $1.6 million, or almost 8 percent, from 2022.
Salaries and wages have been budgeted at $6.9 million in 2023, 31 percent of the total, an increase of $641,000, or ten percent, from 2022. Benefits add another $2 million, up over $260,000 from 2022, and an increase of some 14 percent.
Ward 1 Councillor Wayne Olson commented that the budget “errs on the side of conservatism as much as possible, but there are still some terrific unknowns ahead of us. It illustrates how leveraged debt is in this town, and how wise we were to forego taking on the debt of a new library.”
Olson pivoted at this point, making a pitch for more money for a small segment of Town staff.
“We have always taken an approach of fairness towards our employees, and I think there is some room in the budget for a few smaller items,” he said. “It’s time for the Town of Pelham to adopt a living wage policy. We have some employees earning minimum wage. PenFinancial and Meridian Credit Unions, Pelham Cares, and the Corporation of the City of St. Catharines are examples of local organizations that have embraced a living wage.”
He suggested that money could be taken from the Human Resources Capacity Building Reserve to fund the bump in wages, and requested that staff prepare a report on the issue.
A living wage is the hourly wage a worker needs to earn in a given region to cover their basic expenses, like food and housing. It is not the same as the minimum wage, which is the legislated minimum all employers must pay, and is set by the provincial government.
Living Wage Canada calculated the living wage for the Niagara Region at $19.80 an hour for 2022. Toronto’s rate was $23.15.
The minimum wage in Ontario was increased to $15.50 an hour in October 2022.
Pelham poll workers in the 2022 municipal election received a living wage rate, above minimum wage.
CAO David Cribbs responded that a report in the spring was appropriate and doable, since the budgeting process for 2024 will commence in July.
“We need to do some analysis, and prepare a joint report involving my office, human resources, and corporate and financial services,” Cribbs said, acknowledging that school crossing guards and some employees at the Meridian Community Centre would be impacted by a living wage adjustment. Olson added that the issue also impacts recruitment and retention of summer employees, such as pool lifeguards.
“Depending on the quantum cost, it could be something we absorb into the 2023 budget,” he said.
A recent CBC report indicated that people that are earning at the bottom scale of the wage spectrum are overwhelmingly equity-seeking groups, including women and immigrants, whose purchasing power, like that of all Canadians, has been dramatically degraded by inflation.