Taxpayers will shell out an extra $36,000 this year to cover the pay raises members of Penticton city council awarded themselves Tuesday.
Acting on recommendations from an independent task force, council voted 4-3 to accept the increases, which work out to a 20% boost for the mayor and 17% for each councillor.
The bulk of the hikes are meant to make up for a recent change in federal policy that ended the practice of giving elected officials one-third of their pay tax-free.
Robert Heywood, a former North Vancouver city councillor who led the task force, said the top-up should therefore not be seen as a raise, a sentiment accepted by the majority of council, some members of which also suggested they were thinking of their successors.
“It’s not only for ourselves, but the next council coming up is also going to benefit from it, and perhaps we’ll get better people running for city council and mayor,” said Mayor John Vassilaki.
“If we’re not doing this for us, why implement it now instead of for the next council?” shot back Coun. Campbell Watt, the most vocal opponent of the increases.
Watt suggested council turn down the top-up for the lost tax perk – “by adjusting for that, we take a little more out of the citizens’ pockets” – and time the other raises to take effect when the next council takes office.
“I’m OK with what I get. I’m doing this because I enjoy it. I’m doing this because I feel like we have an impact. I’m not doing it for an extra $50 a month,” said Watt.
“And I’m asking my colleagues to understand that the citizens expected us to do the job we were doing for the money we were offered at the time.”
The other dissenters were Couns. Frank Regehr and Julius Bloomfield, who both suggested delaying the pay increases.
Although he voted in favour, Coun. Jake Kimberley described the issue as “real difficult” and “uncomfortable,” and suggested stipends should be set by the B.C. government based on population.
“This is not a money-making job… but it should be fair,” added Coun. Judy Sentes, while Coun. Katie Robinson suggested the group was caught off-guard by the tax change.
“We all knew what we were getting ourselves into when we signed up for running for council, but no one said we’d be getting a cut in pay,” she said.
(The elimination of the tax perk was actually announced by the federal government in its 2017 budget.)
The changes are retroactive to Jan. 1, and lift the mayor’s annual pay from $65,139 to $78,332, and individual councillors’ from $22,160 to $25,936.
The smaller portion of the increase – 5% for the mayor and 8% for councillors – was calculated by comparing elected officials’ earnings here to counterparts in similar-sized communities.
Council also adopted separate recommendations to continue to tie annual increases to inflation, raise per diems for travel and continue offering elected officials’ medical benefits, but entirely at their own expense, rather than the 50% share offered to the last council.
Other task force members were Helen Sparkles, Gary Dean, Wayne Llewellyn and Doug Leahy. Theirs was the first such review since 2002.
Meanwhile, council also received the 2018 statement of financial information, which lists every employee who earned over $75,000 last year.
The number of names on the list rose from 105 in 2017 to 122 last year, but city controller Angela Campbell said only one full-time employee was actually added over that period.
What drove the increase, she explained, were regular inflationary pressures and reclassifications of positions. Wages were also jacked up by overtime incurred to respond to emergencies like flooding, which has since been reimbursed by the B.C. government, and the fibre optic project undertaken by Telus, which hired city electrical workers for parts of the job.
Campbell said approximately 40% of the city’s employees are now on the sunshine list.
City of Penticton’s highest earners
1. Peter Weeber, city manager*: $199,990.33
2. Larry Watkinson, fire chief: $190,475.30
3. Mitch Moroziuk, general manager, infrastructure, $184,486.69
4. Jim Bauer, chief financial officer, $173,644.56
5. Anthony Haddad, director, development services: $164,362.72
6. Glen Bierle, fire captain: $146,913.57
7. Bregje Kozak, director, recreation and facilities: $146,835.66
8. Shawn Filice, manager, electrical utility: $146,196.59
9. Ken Younghusband, fire captain: $145,497.44
10. Ian Chapman, city engineer: $141,850.22
* no longer with the city
Source: City of Penticton