Central Saanich residents may get a chance to vote on the future remuneration of their councillors.
Central Saanich council will consider supporting a referendum during the next municipal election asking the public to select from a series of options about remuneration, with staff and council to consider referendum details closer to the actual election date.
With this notice of motion, Coun. Zeb King revives an issue that fell off the table last month because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mayor Ryan Windsor last month withdraw a motion that called on the municipality to set the remuneration for the mayor and council at the same level as Esquimalt, with councillor remuneration to be set at 40 per cent of the mayors’ salary with all receiving annual cost of living adjustments.
The motion dating back to March never came up for a vote as councillors postponed a vote pending receipt of a report reviewing remuneration and benefits because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Windsor’s decision to withdraw his motion subsequently prompted King to withdraw a notice of motion calling on the current council not to consider the issue and that the pending report investigating the issue “shall be presented for information to candidates and voters just prior to the 2022 municipal election.”
That notice of motion did not include specific references to a referendum now appearing in the motion before council Monday.
Notably, the preamble says among other points that asking the public for input could yield “helpful guidance” in setting remuneration rates in nodding to the large complexities confronting municipal councillors.
While the provincial government has given them the right to set their own rates and the Union of British Columbia Municipalities has developed a best practice guide, the question of remuneration has long vexed municipal councils.
Their current freedom to set their own rates can also be a poisoned chalice as councillors across the province have struggled to find a formula that avoids the perception of self-dealing while accurately capturing their respective circumstances, both in terms of personal time commitments as well as broader complexities such as the size of their respective municipalities.
Balancing these competing requirements can be more than tricky, as Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt found out late last year, when his calls for a 50 per cent pay hike because of higher workload drew considerable public opposition.
King’s notice of motion in turn proposes to turn over this tricky subject to the very people, who fund council remuneration, namely citizens. As such, any future rates promise to have a higher legitimacy and councillors would not find themselves in the position of having to vote for their remuneration. But populist elements unfamiliar with the duties of councillors could also easily capture the process, creating unintended consequences, such as discouraging candidates from under-represented demographics, such as youth or women.
If the previously proposed increases had gone ahead, Windsor’s remuneration would have go up by 65 per cent, while the remuneration of councillors would go up by about 50 per cent. This said, the actual net increase would have been significantly less — about half — because of recent tax changes by the federal government.
Esquimalt council unanimously voted in the fall of 2018 to increase salaries for mayor and council. The mayor now collects $57,600 per year, up roughly 16 per cent from $48,225.20. Each of the six councillors in Esquimalt receives a rate of 40 per cent of the mayor’s salary — about $23,040, up about 10 per cent from $20,779.60. The vote took place before the 2018 municipal election and applies to the current council.
Months before Esquimalt’s decision in February 2018, Central Saanich also raised remuneration rates, raising the mayor’s pay from $31,077 to $34,800 and councillor pay from $13,653 to $15,300. But that debate also revealed among other points dissatisfaction with changes to federal tax law that have actually cut into salaries of council members.
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