EDITORIAL: Council pay increases raise questions in Port Alberni

Should municipal councils be voting for their own pay raises?

Should municipal councils be voting for their own pay raises?

Judging from the awkward discussions happening around the province—including Port Alberni City Council on March 26–the answer is no.

Port Alberni is one of a handful of councils that have debated pay raises for elected officials in the past couple of weeks, and the discussions in places like Port Coquitlam have been controversial. Last week’s affirmative vote in Port Alberni also stimulated much discussion.

In previous years, Port Alberni council would vote yay or nay for a mayor-and-council raise that would not come into effect until after the election—therefore removing any argument that there was a conflict of interest. Following the Judy Rogers management report in 2015 it was decided that the city’s chief administrative officer (CAO) write a report on council remuneration for 2017 and 2018. Last Monday, CAO Tim Pley delivered his report, which also included remuneration for exempt (non-union) staff at city hall. Pay raises are retroactive to January 2018.

Lumping the council pay raise with the excluded staff pay raise put councillors in an untenable position: to vote against the motion would be denying staff raises. Port Alberni must keep their staff salaries competitive so they don’t lose experienced staff, or keep their salaries so low they cannot attract skilled employees from other communities when positions become available.

Councillors couldn’t really vote against exempt staff increases. They could have separated the two salary matters though, and voted on them separately. We would have liked to have heard debate on the mayor and councillor salary proposal; not separating the two was a missed opportunity.

We do agree that people who put their names forward to represent their communities on a municipal council should receive compensation—they are likely having to forfeit part of their employment to fulfill council commitments, and deserve to earn a wage. As veteran councillor Dan Washington said, “this is a life-shifting job.”

Compensation should be such that municipal council positions are attractive to younger candidates—not just retirees or longtime employees who can afford to spend as much time as they choose on the position.

We just don’t think the councils should be voting on their own wages.

—Alberni Valley News

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