Pitt Meadows is the fourth city in Metro Vancouver to adopt a living wage.
Others include Vancouver, New Westminster and Port Coquitlam.
On Tuesday, council agreed to raise employee reimbursement to a minimum rate of $20.64 per hour, including benefits, at a cost of almost $100,000 per year to taxpayers.
In June, council heard a presentation from Deanna Ogle, organizer of the Living Wage for Families Campaign. Staff was then asked to prepare a report on what effect a wage change would have on staff and budgets.
Contracts for more than $25,000 will also be affected.
Generally, standard benefits packages are valued at between $2 and $3 per hour.
The change will hike 33 contracts with the city, and directly raise the rates of about 12 full-time equivalent city employees.
The new policy will not increase wages for private businesses that are not contracting services to the city.
“For my part, I’ve struggled with this,” said Mayor John Becker, the lone dissenter.
He agreed council has an obligation to ensure disadvantaged members of the community are taken care of.
“But I don’t believe it properly falls into the job of local government to spend tax dollars on that, except in an advocacy position,” he said.
He said the living wage initiative does not address poverty effectively.
“Given how it’s structured, really all it does is make it difficult, if not impossible for local governments to contract out,” he said.
“Nowhere does relief of poverty show up in our strategic plan. Nor should it. It’s the job of federal and provincial governments,” added Becker.
Staff estimated the wage changes will cost the city $94,000 a year.
Becker suggested that amount could instead be used to pay interest on loans.
“So we’re taking that kind of capacity out of our taxpayer’s pocket,” he added.
Coun. David Murray asserted the additional money spent on wages will stay in the city.
“Those are contractors that work in Pitt Meadows, [who] are going to have more money in their pocket, [who] are going to be able to spend money in local Pitt Meadows businesses, hopefully helping our Pitt Meadows economy,” he said.
Coun. Bill Dingwall said becoming a living wage employer helps families cover basic expenses.
“For me, this recognizes the high cost of living in the Lower Mainland,” he said. “A lot of people are struggling just to make ends meet – no doubt in my mind. And this really touches on basic needs, not anything extravagant. This is about basic needs.”
Coun. Janis Elkerton said poverty is an issue that should be addressed at the provincial and federal levels, but that both are scared of repercussions.
“We’re not. We’re leaders,” she said.
Elkerton noted the tax increase will be 0.5 per cent per year, or $9.77 per family dwelling as a result of the wage increases.
“We want to make sure people are treated well, and it shows leadership from us, and poverty reduction.”