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Salaries for council positions rise by up to 47 per cent in five years

Jan 05 2012

Salaries for municipal council members in Greater Victoria have inched upward over the past five years, but a few communities stand out with increases as high as 47.7 per cent.

Municipalities have a range of methods to determine council pay. Some use the consumer price index to establish the rate increase automatically. Others go with the average or median salary of several similar-sized communities.

In the past five years, four communities have seen the most significant increases - Victoria, Saanich, Central Saanich and North Saanich. Others have had no increases.

Victoria is unique because of a policy introduced in 2009 that made mayor and council salaries completely taxable. Other municipalities include a one-third non-taxable portion. "It's like looking at the gross and net amounts on someone's paycheque," said Bridget Frewer, a communications co-ordinator with the City of Victoria.

Most municipal councils in Greater Victoria have adjusted their annual salary hikes to reflect cost-of-living increases. It is aimed at creating a more non-partisan process so that councils do not set their own rates of pay every year.

Saanich, which has the largest population in Greater Victoria, bases council salaries on the average pay for councils in similar-sized B.C. communities. The salaries of Saanich councillors have risen 29.7 per cent since 2007.

Victoria council formed a citizen committee in 2006 to determine a new salary structure for its council.

The salaries bumped up in 2009 to equal 75 per cent of the average full-time earnings in Victoria at that time. The mayor's salary was set at a figure 2.5 times more than the councillors' pay.

Excluding Victoria's increase because of its new formula, the highest increase in the past five years was given to the Central Saanich mayor. The salary for that position has jumped 47.7 per cent since 2007, from $20,100 to $29,690.

Most of the raise came in 2009 when, after using CPI increases, the council compared its mayor's pay with that in Sidney and North Saanich. New Mayor Alastair Bryson, a councillor at the time, said the increase showed just how far behind his community was.

"It reflected that we were significantly under-market," he said. "But we need to be clear - we don't do this job for the salary."

The new Sooke council has introduced a bylaw that will freeze the council's pay for the remainder of the next term. Freezing salaries may appear to be a prudent gesture, particularly during a time when the politicians aim to hack away at their operating budgets, but eventually council salaries fall behind those of other municipalities.

A similar situation emerged in Nanaimo in 2008. A new council froze salaries after taking office in an effort to slash costs. Three years later, the same politicians raised their pay right before the election, to keep pace with other communities of similar size.

"It doesn't work," said former Nanaimo councillor Merv Unger, the only member of council to oppose the freeze in 2008. "Later on, they realize where they are in relation to other communities and they try to catch up and [the raise] looks outlandish."

dspalding@timescolonist.com

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