In light of the recent articles in several papers about run-away municipal expenditures I decided to take a look at costs incurred by Sooke.
In comparing the Statement of Financial Information (SOFI) for 2010 with that of 2013 I noticed an alarming trend. Wages for municipal employees have increased considerably. In 2010 there were only seven employees earning over $75,000 per year. That number has ballooned to 13 employees in 2013; five of them coming from the fire department. Some employees have received up to a $21,000 salary increase from 2010 to 2013. As an example the fire chief’s salary has risen from $88,000 in 2010 to $109,000 in 2013 which averages out to approximately 6.25 per cent wage hike per year.
This is well above the rate of inflation and the wage increases that were received by both the private and public sector over that same period. It should be noted that many in the private as well as the public sector have received no wage increase for that same period. It is no wonder that wages are cited as one of the major contributors to run away municipal expenditures with the inevitable tax burden being borne by property and business owners.
At the All Candidates meeting held on October 30, I asked both mayoral candidates why these generous salary hikes happened and what would they do if elected to ensure a more reasonable approach to the remuneration received by our municipal employees? I was advised that these wage increases, articularly in regards to the fire department, were the result of comparisons to similar positions from other municipalities. This method for determining the salary of a particular position is an unreasonable approach. I was told that the increases for our fire department were to bring them more in line with the Saanich/Langford/Victoria fire departments. This is like comparing apples to oranges as they are urban communities with a much larger commercial and property tax base than Sooke, a small rural community with virtually no industry.
Neither candidate provided an adequate response as to how they would control wages in the future.
It seems reasonable that as tax payers, ultimately the “employers” of municipal employees, we should expect a more balanced approach to municipal salaries. Employees salaries should have a defined minimum to maximum pay rate for each position and just as in the private sector once an employee has reached the maximum any future salary increase would be limited to the cost of living.
Wages like any other expenditures should also take into consideration what can actually be borne by the tax base of Sooke.
I may have offered a simplistic solution but all I know is that if this trend on generous salary hikes continues we will, within the next few years, have a few municipal employees making as much as the Premier of the Province.