A decision on increasing pay for some of the directors in the Cowichan Valley Regional District has been deferred for 30 days.
At the board meeting on March 25, the district’s director services select committee recommended that remuneration for the representatives from the nine electoral areas be increased by $11,167 as of April 1.
Remuneration for the electoral area directors is currently approximately $33,795 a year.
But a lengthy discussion among board members indicated that many felt it was bad timing to be discussing pay raises during the instability created by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
Tek Manhas, one of the directors representing the Municipality of North Cowichan, said he was “dumbfounded” when he saw the pay raise on the board’s agenda.
“I thought it was an April Fool’s joke,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate at this time given the layoffs in the community and the anxiety of the people who are struggling to pay rent, mortgages and their everyday bills. I think it’s absurd that we’re having this debate at this time.”
Aaron Stone, chairman of the board and mayor of Ladysmith, said he felt that Manhas’s statements were an “unfair characterization” of the issue.
He said that it’s part of the CVRD’s regular process that when a committee or commission makes a recommendation, it automatically is forwarded to the next board meeting.
“It might be bad timing, but the director services select committee has been working on this for more than a year, over many meetings,” Stone said.
“Although the timing may be poor, the recommendation was automatically referred to this meeting before the COVID-19 crisis erupted.”
Shane Ryan, the alternate for Blaise Salmon, director of Mill Bay/Malahat who was not at the meeting, said he understands that it may have taken some time to come to this point in the discussions around directors’ remuneration, but in light of current events, the timing should be considered.
“Granted, I have no horse in this race as an alternate [who would not receive the additional pay], but the board would be tone deaf if this is accepted given the climate at this time,” Ryan said.
“It also seems a conflict of interest to me that the board is responsible for setting its own remuneration. Isn’t it usually the case that remuneration is set for the next board?”
Stone said it is a requirement of the Local Government Act that regional boards set their own remuneration.
“Some defer it to the next board, but I’m part of a municipal council that has taken the responsibility to try and not defer these decisions to the next group, but your point is well taken,” he said.
Alison Nicholson, director for Cowichan Station/Sahtlam/Glenora, also said she believes the timing for the discussion around remuneration is bad at this time and she would like it deferred until the COVID-19 crisis has stabilized.
North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring said any decision to increase remuneration at this time would be not only tone deaf, it would be wrong.
“Our municipal council almost had our budget [for 2020] finalized, but we’re now reviewing it to see if we can find ways to minimize the impact of tax increases considering what’s going,” he said.
“I don’t have a boat in this race either, but I think this decision should be held off until we see what things look like going forward.”
Sierra Acton, director for Shawnigan Lake and chairwoman of the director services select committee, said the committee has been working on the remuneration issue for the past year and a half.
“There’s never a good time [for this discussion],” Acton said.
“This is not completely about us, but the future of the board.”
Ian Morrison, director for Cowichan Lake South/Skutz Falls, said that in his 12 years on the board, he has seen the question of increasing directors’ pay punted forward to the next council twice.
“That just makes it awkward for the people sitting around the table who have to make these decisions,” he said.
“Last year, the director services select committee was established to begin work to determine the benefit package and compensation for directors, and that, for the most part, has been wrapped up. I agree that it may be bad timing, but I have a strong sense that, if not considered today, this very appropriate resolution will be punted to another board and then there will be another recommended increase that will be considered unacceptable, which will put a future board in difficult circumstances.”
Morrison recommended that the pay increase be implemented on Oct. 1, rather than April 1, when some stability should have returned in the community, and across the globe, from the current health crisis.
Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples said she feels torn on the issue.
She said she recognizes the challenges all are facing due to the COVID-19 crisis and it doesn’t feel like an appropriate time for the discussion, so she recommended it be tabled for 30 days.
“I don’t want to see this defeated today,” Staples said.
“A lot of work went into this and I don’t want to put it at risk. I have concerns for the area directors and recognize the increased demands on their time, which have been substantial given what’s happening.”
Klaus Kuhn, director for Youbou/Meade Creek, said he agrees the timing is bad, but he expects the timing will never be good to talk about pay increases for directors.
“A pay increase will always be looked at by many as directors granting themselves more money,” he said.
“But I can’t see pushing this off indefinitely or on a month by month basis. I think we should change the date of implementation from April 1 to Oct. 1.”
After more discussion, a motion to defer the decision for 30 days was passed.