More than 65 staff members in the Cowichan Valley’s three local governments are making more than $100,000 a year in pay and benefits, according to financial statements from 2020.
They include 36 in the Cowichan Valley Regional District, 26 in the Municipality of North Cowichan and four in the City of Duncan.
The highest paid municipal employee in the Valley is the CVRD’s CAO Brian Carruthers who received $229,000 in remuneration last year, followed by North Cowichan’s CAO Ted Swabey, who received $226,000.
The third highest paid staff member is the CVRD’s general manager of corporate services Mark Kueber who totalled $180,800 in pay and benefits last year, while the fourth place goes to John Elzinga, the CVRD’s general manager of corporate services, who made $172,700 in 2020.
As with most municipalities in B.C., politicians in the three jurisdictions get paid much less than most of the senior staff members who work for them.
The highest paid municipal politician in the region is North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring who received remuneration totalling $78,000 from the municipality in 2020, while CVRD Chairman Aaron Stone made $49,100 from the district, and Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples earned $33,000 from the city.
As for the six councillors in North Cowichan, their pay ranged from $28,000 to $31,000 depending on their responsibilities, while remuneration for the six councillors in the City of Duncan ranged from $17,000 to $17,600
The average pay and benefits for directors in the CVRD that represent electoral areas ranges between $34,000 to $36,000, while directors appointed from among council members in Duncan and North Cowichan on the board make a little more than half as much.
Siebring, who is also a director for North Cowichan on the board of the CVRD, said the pay and benefits for senior staff in local governments may be considered to be high by many, but they have to be competitive with the private sector.
“The reality is that we’re losing staff to the private sector all the time, with the CVRD losing six senior-level management positions in a short period of time,” he said.
“These people have engineering and other advanced degrees and while their pay may look like a lot, these are not minimum-wage jobs. The pay they receive is not out of line.”
As for the fact that local politicians receive so little remuneration as compared to senior staff, Siebring said there is a historical basis for that which has little bearing on the expectations of today’s council and board members.
“In the past, even as recently as 2008 when I first was elected to North Cowichan’s council, being a member of council was considered a part-time job, but the demands on time, and the background research involved with the role these days have gone up exponentially while the pay hasn’t,” he said.
But Siebring said it’s the job of local politicians to approve pay raises, including their own, and many of them are “scared to death” to raise their own pay.
He said the perception among many in the public is that local politicians are lining their own pockets if they approve pay raises for themselves, and pointed to the reaction to a proposal last year that would have seen the CVRD increase the pay of the directors of its electoral areas by $11,167.
Due to the financial uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic at the time, the board decided to shelve the issue until the 2021 budget process this year.
“There are some serious inequities in pay for some of the directors of electoral areas that have to be dealt with at some point,” Siebring said.
“There are more people in Shawnigan Lake than in Ladysmith, and while Ladysmith has a mayor and council to represent it, Shawnigan Lake has just one director, Sierra Acton, who must take on all the responsibilities.”