Saanich councillors may be departing from their previous practice of publicly voting for changes to their own remuneration.
A staff report before council Monday recommends several changes to the remuneration and expense policy of Saanich council, including an amendment that would no longer require councillors to vote on future changes to their rates as a separate line item. They would continue to vote on remuneration rates through the budget process.
“An amendment to the policy to include automatic inclusion of the increase into the budget and not require a [council] motion has been provided for [council]’s consideration,” said Valla Tinney, Saanich’s finance director in the report.
While technically not required, councillors had previously voted on increases, she said earlier in the report.
During 2019 budget discussions, council set the remuneration for the office of mayor at $116,492.22 and the office of councillor $46,047.95. These figures represent increases of 13.22 and 11.47 per cent respectively. These increases in turn responded to changes in federal legislation effective Jan. 1 that require members of council to declare their entire remuneration as taxable.
The federal government previously exempted one-third of their remuneration on the assumption that elected officials incur expenses throughout their working year, to the tune of one-third of their pay. By way of background, council approved the increase unanimously. The public also heard at the time that net pay for each member of council would vary from person to person, with some potentially earning less.
Saanich determines the remuneration of the mayor and councillors on an annual basis, based on the average of the remuneration of council members of municipalities of comparable size. This group consists out of Kelowna, Kamloops, Abbotsford, North Vancouver, Delta, Langley (Township), and more locally, Victoria and Nanaimo.
The recommendation to automatically add future increases to the municipal budget without a vote comes after councillors had discussed the issue during 2019 budget talks.
“What I think is the awkward situation is the fact that it comes to us each year to vote on,” said Coun. Colin Plant back in March. “I think if we believe in this [council remuneration] policy, that we actually just make it so. This is what the increase will be, and we de-politicize it. Otherwise, it will come up every year as an item we vote on.”
He added later that the Capital Regional District automatically adds increases to the budget.
Mayor Fred Haynes said at the time that such a change could save council time, adding that council could always revisit the policy.
Chief administrative officer Paul Thorkelsson said in March that council’s remuneration policy was silent on the issue. “This has been the practise in Saanich, I suspect, historically through the desire to be transparent. [But] there is nothing in the policy that says it has to happen.”