A key factor in Port Alberni city council’s decision to try and raise their pay is the amount of the average stipend paid to councillors in cities of similar size.
Those communities may be similar in size to Port Alberni, but a closer look at them reveals cities with varying resources to tap into.
A report to council by city manager Ken Watson served as a backdrop for council’s initiative. Watson said he drew on a bulletin from CivicInfo BC that analyzed council pay by population and region in B.C.
Specifically, Watson gathered information at council’s request about communities with populations between 10,000-25,000. At 17,000 Port Alberni’s population is in the middle, therefore the range was a good benchmark for comparison, the report noted.
According to the report, remuneration for Port Alberni’s council is $14,000 behind municipalities of similar size: $8,000 for mayor, $5,000 for council. The maximum mayors’ 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.
Three of the communities looked at as part of the report included Pitt Meadows (pop. 17,000), Courtenay (pop. 25,000) and Parksville (11,000).
In Pitt Meadows, the average single family home has an assessed value of $450,000. The annual property tax paid on that home is $1,698 plus utilities. The city collects $16 million for all property taxes.
Pitt Meadows Mayor Deb Walters’ salary is adjusted to 75 per cent of the published median salary of all Metro Vancouver mayors for the preceding year. Councillors make 37.5 per cent of the mayor’s salary.
Council salaries are reviewed by an independent committee each year.
In Courtenay, the average single family home has an assessed value of $279,000. The annual property tax paid on that home is $2,343 including utilities. The city took in $22 million in property taxes in 2013.
Courtenay council’s remuneration was last reviewed in 2010 and no changes were made.
In Parksville, the average single family home has an assessed value of $302,000. The annual property tax paid on that home is $2,600, which may include taxes collected for other bodies.
The city collected $11.3 million in property taxes for 2013 not including collections for other bodies.
By comparison, the average single family home in Port Alberni with an assessed value of $189,547 paid $1,667 in property taxes last year. And the city collected $20 million in property taxes in 2012.
There isn’t a problem finding candidates to run for city council, and pointing to other jurisdictions’ stipends creates a false economy, said Jordan Bateman, the BC director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
In the 2011 civic election, four candidates ran for mayor and 19 candidates ran for the six other council seats. “There was no problem attracting interest in running for office,” Bateman said. “If they’re not having a problem getting people to put their name forward for the job then why the raise?”
Some municipalities calculate their stipends based on what nearby municipalities pay, but the move creates a false economy, Bateman said.
“If one goes up they all go up, and it creates this chain reaction where communities drive each others’ wages up while neglecting the other facts.”
Serving on city council is public service and should be treated as such, Bateman said. “But if councillors want to get paid more money then they can move to Nanaimo or Victoria and try and run on that kind of platform. This is a money grab.”