City of Powell River’s approach to determining how it compensates elected officials is something a little out of the ordinary, says an expert in BC local governments.
University of Victoria and Capilano University local government professor Allison Habkirk said she has never heard of the method the city is using before, and that makes it “novel.”
While the provincial government sets clear direction on how local governments operate through the Local Government Act and Community Charter, it does not specify how local governments remunerate, or pay, elected officials.
“Remuneration across the province is really varied, but it is usually based on comparisons,” said Habkirk. “They look at the norm in other similar communities and take into account their own history to reach an amount.”
Powell River’s existing bylaw, enacted more than 10 years ago, sets the mayor’s salary at $35,000, 2.5 times that of a councillor ($14,000), with both amounts being adjusted at the start of a new year to the provincial consumer price index.
The assumption is that the mayor works a 40-hour week, while councillors work a 24-hour week.
According to a report by city chief financial officer Kathleen Day, in 2016 the mayor was paid $41,342 and each councillor received $16,485.
The city, however, has not entirely dismissed the idea of using comparisons to arrive at its remuneration rates.
Instead of looking outside, it has decided to look inward, to what an average Powell River resident makes in a year of work.
According to Canada Revenue Agency’s individual tax statistics, Powell River’s average salary in 2013, the most recent year it has results for, was $33,750.
At a January 12 city finance committee meeting, councillor Karen Skadsheim said she objected to the idea of using comparisons with remuneration rates of other communities to give council a raise because it did not provide an adequate rational.
However, the issue of what Powell River Regional District electoral area directors pay themselves is something that cannot be overlooked, said Skadsheim.
It is estimated that electoral area directors are granted just under $20,000 per year for their service, a bone of contention for some on council.
With a unanimous vote, Council Remuneration and Reimbursement Bylaw 2458, 2017, was given its first three readings at a council meeting on Thursday, February 2. If approved at a future meeting, the bylaw would establish a raise for councillors that would bring their salary up to 58 per cent of the average Powell River salary in 2013. The mayor’s pay would still equate to 2.5 times what the councillors would be paid.
Under the bylaw, the annual rate for councillors would go up about $3,000 to $19,600, and up about $8,000 to $49,000 for the mayor.
Councillor Russell Brewer, who sits on the regional board as a municipal director, said he is comfortable with the proposed changes.
“It puts councillors at parity with the electoral area directors, so in my mind that’s a good rationale,” said Brewer at the meeting. “Equating that to a percentage of the average income in Powell River sets it on a good base going forward.”
Skadsheim said at the meeting she did not think of the proposed increase for the councillors and mayor as a raise so much as “a recognition of the body of work being asked of people to take time from their jobs.”
Councillor Maggie Hathaway told council the discussion on remuneration is one that has come up year after year during her time as an elected official, but there seemed to be less political will to move forward with changing it in the past.
“We struggle with this. It’s really hard to give yourself a raise,” she said. “There’s never a good time.”
Hathaway said she supports the change because of the percentage approach. She said it “substantiates” the amount of remuneration she receives and she sees it acting as an incentive for council to ensure the average income of Powell River residents continues to increase by bringing “good industry with good paying jobs” to town.
Habkirk, who also served as a councillor and mayor of Central Saanich, said most communities could not afford to compensate elected officials to the extent they probably deserve.
She said the job has become increasingly challenging as local governments have been saddled with finding solutions to crumbling infrastructure with less money being provided from provincial and federal governments to address the issues.
Social media has led to more constituents than ever before having access to communication with their representatives, often asking for help with issues that fall outside the mandate of local government, such as social housing.
“Expectations from the public are increasing all the time,” said Habkirk. “The challenge for a council is to figure out what the community can afford, and yet provide some kind of remuneration that will enable people to actually do the job.”
Habkirk added that for the system to work well, it must attract a diversity of people with different ages and experiences, all willing to put time and energy into acting as a steward for the community.
“You don’t just want people who are retired or who have sufficient income that they can afford to do the job,” she said. “If you were a single parent in your community and were expected to spend 30 to 40 hours per week as an elected official, and there wasn’t enough compensation, you would probably not be willing to, or even able to, do the job. It’s a real challenge.”
Municipal salary comparisons
Williams Lake, population: 10,744
2016 remuneration for mayor: $43,000
2016 remuneration for councillors: $15,000
2016 remuneration for mayor: $28,333
2016 remuneration for councillors: $12,532
Prince Rupert, population: 12,815
2016 remuneration for mayor: $61,801
2016 remuneration for councillors: $13,974
Powell River, population: 12,957
2016 remuneration for mayor: $41,342
2016 remuneration for councillors: $16,485
2016 remuneration for mayor: $46,471
2016 remuneration for councillors: $21,890
Salmon Arm, population: 16,012
2016 remuneration for mayor: $53,000
2016 remuneration for councillors: $21,660
Port Alberni, population: 17,548
2016 remuneration for mayor: $38,873
2016 remuneration for councillors: $17,229
AVERAGES OF ABOVE
2016 remuneration for mayor: $44,689
2016 remuneration for councillors: $16,963