Waters: Squawking has already started about council paycheques

It’s a no-win situation. But it has to be done.

It’s a no-win situation. But it has to be done.

Somebody has to figure out how much we pay our local politicians.

But, given that the city foots the bill for the mayor and her councillors—and the municipal buck stops with them—the council of today has to be the one to sign off for what the council of tomorrow will be paid.

So once again, as is the case every three years, the squawking has started over potential pay hikes for the folks who will sit on council following November’s municipal election.

But if there is a better way to review council pay levels than the one used here, I’d like to hear it.

Short of simply tying the mayor and councilors’ pay to the B.C. cost of living index— which now happens in non-election years—it’s hard to see a more arm’s length way of doing it than the system Kelowna uses.

Unlike other municipalities, Kelowna leaves its tri-annual pay ponderings to a committee of three qualified community volunteers. The volunteers look at what other mayors and councillors are paid elsewhere, compare the workloads here and there, ask questions, gather information and make recommendations. Sometimes they say the mayor’s job should pay more, other times it’s a hike for councillors. I can’t remember the pay level ever being cut.

It’s true council appoints the committee members and it approves the recommendation. But each year, the approval is simply a rubber stamp.

The key here however—in addition to the use of an outside committee—is that the recommendations don’t kick in until after the next municipal election.

The message to incumbents is clear—if you get back in, you win. For newcomers, remuneration levels are known in advance.

As for what the city pays its mayor and councillors—$87,902 and $30,765 respectively, with one-third of those amounts tax-free—well, that’s a different debate. Some think it’s too high, some think it’s too low and others think it’s just right.

But no matter the level, even the most lax council member earns his or her money over the course of a year. The hours they put in, the research they do, their access to the public and the responsibility they handle easily translate their respective paycheques into pretty low per-hour rates.

This year, given the recent economic turmoil, a pay hike for council members may or may not be in the cards.

But if it is, and if re-elected, incumbents and newcomers alike really want to make a statement, they could always just follow West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater. When he was awarded a pay hike last year, he gave it back.

Alistair Waters is the Capital News’ assistant editor.


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