Municipal spending not sustainable

Another view

“Kings ought to shear, not skin their sheep.”

Herrick

An old quote perhaps, but one which is apt in this day-and-age. The ever upward-spiralling spending at the municipal level has gotten to the point of being rather obscene.

A recent report on municipal spending in British Columbia stated that, “civic spending in B.C. has become unsustainable.”  Entire countries are faltering with their finances while some municipalities just keep opening the almost empty vault. One has only to look at the United States, Greece and Europe. These countries did not get into this predicament through thoughtful financial planning. They got there because they never thought the well would run dry — and it has. The federal government has declared no raises for its employees and so has the province. Why is it that on the local level there is a sense that whatever is asked for will be granted? Where does this sense of entitlement come from?

“Municipal spending in B.C. is going up twice as fast as inflation and growth rate — something cities, towns, villages and taxpayers just can’t afford,” states a news release from the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of B.C. (ICBA).

ICBA combed through the contracts a number of municipalities had signed with their workers and found grossly inflated wages and benefits are burdening taxpayers with high costs. On average, a municipal worker in B.C. gets pay and benefits 35 per cent higher than a private-sector counterpart doing the same jobs, said the report.

Locally, it is known that those in the top positions at the District of Sooke have recently been awarded substantial wage increases, bringing the expenditures for wages well over the $2 million mark, that with revenues hovering in the $13.9 million range. That’s a very high percentage of the total yearly expenditures for the district. This isn’t happening just in the District of Sooke but all across the province. The taxpayers’ pockets are only so deep and one wonders why there is so much animosity towards those who govern and control (or rather don’t control) the spending. No matter how many “grants” we receive for projects, the money still comes out of our local, provincial and federal tax pockets. We can only pay so much without collapsing under the burden.

Add to that the gold-plated contract terms like gratuity days (time off on top of regular holidays and sick time, just for coming to work), defined benefit pensions and extra-generous holiday provisions have sent costs to the unsustainable level. It just appears from this end that its a little like buying a vote.

Yes, we realize that district staff and management’s recompense needs to equal what is paid elsewhere, but some common sense towards what we can afford is needed. We need to base salaries on what we can afford based on our population and tax revenues.

You don’t get the employees to write their own contracts with their own buy-out clauses. Shucks, I think I’ll just fashion a contract that is entirely to my own benefit because no one knows enough to say, ‘hey, wait a minute…’

Why is it that everyone else has to tighten their belts in this economic climate, but not here? Our local governments have to get realistic about how much people can continue to shell out without any real benefit to the community. Gold-plated buyouts and un-tendered contracts cost all of us in the end. It’s time to stop the unfettered drain on our communal bank account, otherwise we can look forward to a fat property tax increase.

City council has to have some say in these monetary issues and take a firm stand for what is best for the community as a whole.

 

Pirjo Raits is the editor of the Sooke News Mirror.