City’s top earners pull in six figures

Half of the 37 City of Port Alberni employees making over $75,000 are firefighters.

Port Alberni city manager Ken Watson is the highest paid employee at city hall, according to an annual list of staff earning more than $75,000 annually. The list this year is dominated by firefighters.

According to the city’s year end financial report for 2012, Watson earned a base salary of $154,833.49, including $4,415 in benefits and was reimbursed $6,562.06 for expenses.

Second top earner was fire chief Tim Pley with a salary of $109,074.30 ($2,826 in benefits and $7,563.22 in expenses).

Coming in third are city engineer Guy Cicon, city clerk Davina Hartwell, parks and recreation director Scott Kenny, human resources manager Theresa Kingston and finance director Cathy Rothwell, all pulling in a base salary of $104,687.84. Benefits ranged from Cicon’s $2,800 to Kingston’s $9,625, with expenses ranging from 0 for Rothwell to Cicon’s $3,399.49.

In all, 37 city employees earned more than $75,000 last year—19 being firefighters.

The city has a staff of 163 full-time workers, with the fire department employing 23.

Watson said it is normal to see a large amount of firefighters on these annual lists in communities throughout B.C. as firefighters are paid by the city directly.

“Firefighters in B.C., or close to 100 per cent of them, are all paid the same rate, the same B.C. rate,” Watson said. “We tried [negotiating salaries based on cost of living] but the arbitrator has said firefighters are firefighters and they should all be paid the same in the province.”

The rate of pay is the same province-wide because provincially appointed arbitrators have always set the rate of pay for firefighters, Watson explained.

Watson also said RCMP officers are paid about the same as fire departments but none make it on the city’s list because the police force is contracted through the RCMP and officers are not paid directly by the city.

Pley said local firefighters are actually paid slightly lower than other firefighters in the province, but will be on par by the end of this year, which is when the latest collective agreement ends. He also said police officers and firefighters work longer shifts and more overtime compared to most civic staff because protective services run 24/7.

“A police and fire work week averages 42 hours per week, while others are 37,” Pley said. “There is also a significant amount of overtime as well because when there is a fire, we need more than what we have on staff [at the given time].”

Pley added Port Alberni’s firefighters are just as good, if not better than any other firefighters throughout the province, so in that regards they all deserve the same pay.

However, he understands the argument to vary wages based on cost of living as it is more expensive to live in Metro Vancouver than in Port Alberni.

“These wages are drawn by binding arbitration,” Pley said. “Municipalities have no say in any way on this.”

reporter@albernivalleynews.com