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When councillors give themselves a nice parting gift

Prince George has gotten something right, more or less.

When it comes to determining how much we pay our mayor and city councillors, Prince George has come upon a relatively good system.

First let’s look to where there is no system … Metro Vancouver, formerly known as the Greater Vancouver Regional District.

Miffed that the federal government has will eliminate the non-taxable status of a portion of elected official salaries in 2019, board members last week voted to give themselves a one-time pay hike of 15 per cent. OK, maybe.

But then came the kicker. With many of the board members not seeking re-election in the fall, the board also decided to give them a nice parting gift. They voted to give board members a nice retirement allowance, retroactive to 2007, to the tune of about $1,100 per year of service. This is given to board members when they are no longer on the board, regardless of whether they quit, decide not to run again, or are turfed out on their ear by the electorate. The retirement allowance, moving forward, will be about $1,500 per year of service with no limit.

Nice little gig. There was an uproar, and rightly so, and the board is now reconsidering, as it should.

This is where Prince George is doing things a little better. Earlier this year council struck and advisory committee comprised of members of the public to look at remuneration for elected members of council.

With the next municipal election slated for October 20, that independent review is now underway and should be conducted before June 30, 2018.

The last review, done in 2011, pegged the mayor’s stipend at $92,787.89 per year and councillors at $30,929.30 per year on Jan. 1, 2012. Each year since, the stipends increased by either the annual per cent wage increase for the city’s exempt staff or the average increase for the public administration industry as published by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, whichever was lower.

Council, should they accept the recommendations of the committee, will be determining the rate of pay for the next crew to sit around the table. In other words, they won’t be voting themselves a raise. Granted, many of the same faces are likely to be there come November, but the decision will have been made without any guarantee that those making the decision will benefit financially.

It’s a much better process than councils and elected boards deciding their own pay. The only knock I have against the Prince George system is that one of the primary considerations for the advisory committee is what other municipalities are paying. There is less emphasis on what is expected of a member of council in terms of workload and time commitment. This opens the door for leap-frogging between municipalities as each tries to stay ahead of the other.

There is another solution. Municipalities are governed by the Municipal Act and the Community Charter. Perhaps it’s time the province stepped up and devised a formula for determining elected officials’ pay, depending on the size of the municipality, tax base (i.e. ability to pay) etc. That would create parity among similar-sized municipalities and it would put an end to local elected officials rewarding themselves with taxpayers’ dollars.

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