Port Alberni city councillors are one step away from giving themselves a raise.
Council voted 5-2 on the first three readings of a remuneration and expenses bylaw at their Jan. 27 meeting.
If the plan is adopted after fourth reading of the bylaw in February then Mayor John Douglas will be paid $38,500 per year, which is an increase from $32,900 last year. Councillors will be paid $17,000, an increase from $13,160 last year.
The raises wouldn’t take effect until April so the cumulative total for all of council would only cost $28,500 this year.
Increasing council remuneration presents too many problems, said Hira Chopra, one of two councillors to vote against the raise (Cindy Solda also objected).
“How can you ask employees and management not to ask for a raise when you just gave yourself one? I don’t think the community can afford the tax burden on this one.”
A report from city manager Ken Watson originally recommended that the stipends be increased to $41,500 and $18,000 respectively to reflect the average stipends of councils from similar size municipalities.
According to the report, the maximum mayor’s stipend was $78,000 while the minimum was $21,000. The average was $41,000. For councillors, the maximum stipend was $31,000 and the minimum $9,000; the average was $17,000.
An amendment by Coun. Rob Cole reduced the raise to seven per cent below the average of similar size municipalities to better reflect the Valley’s standard of living.
In the ensuing discussion, Chopra and Solda spoke against the raise.
Councillors’ means of income can better absorb public service than citizens who just get by, Chopra said. “Lots of people don’t have an $18-an-hour job. When you’re on a limited income everything goes up but not your pension or wage,” he said.
Councillors already get annual raises because the BC Consumer Price Index is built into them, Chopra said.
(The last couple of cost of living raises have been two per cent.)
An outside committee should have been formed to look at the issue and bring recommendations back to council, Solda said. As well, normal practice has been to set raises for new councils after an election so as not to look self serving, she added. “I have a little trouble swallowing this.”
Raising council’s stipend will benefit future councils, Mayor John Douglas said. Doing so might prompt more younger working people to run for city council. “It will allow them the opportunity to become more fully engaged in the community and attend public meetings.”
Coun. Jack McLeman also spoke in favour of the raise.“I’m concerned for people who want to run but have a small business or a family. It’s hard.”