Council members in North Cowichan who will be elected in the upcoming municipal elections will get a pay raise.
Council voted 6-1, with Coun. Joyce Behnsen opposed, in its meeting on Sept. 5 on a motion that will see the mayor’s salary jump from $62,450 per year to $77,854, while councillors’ pay and benefits will go from $22,800 to $28,025.
The proposed pay increase comes before Jan. 1, 2019, when elected members in Canada’s municipalities will be required to pay taxes for the first time on the approximately 30 per cent of their salaries that had been tax exempt.
That tax break was intended to cover some of the many expenses related to a municipal councillor’s work, including some travel costs to attend meetings and office supplies.
Many municipalities across Canada are raising the pay of their elected politicians as a result.
Behnsen had raised a number of objections to the plans for a pay increase for council members since the issue first arose.
She said at Wednesday’s council meeting that council positions are not normally considered full-time jobs.
“We’re here to serve the community, so maybe any pay increases we receive should be performance based,” Behnsen said.
“It’s been determined that that extra amount each council member will have to pay in taxes because of the change in federal policy would be about $2,000, so why are we looking at such a generous pay increase here?”
Coun. Al Siebring pointed out that the pay increase for council members is also based on a staff report that compared North Cowichan’s salaries and benefits with other similar municipalities.
He said that, as well as compensating for the tax changes, the pay increase will bring council remuneration in line with the average compensation provided in those municipalities.
“If we don’t do this now, we’ll spend years playing catch up,” he said.
Coun. Kate Marsh said she supports the pay raise as it could lead more young people to put their names forward and run for council.
“I don’t think future councils should have less pay than this one,” she said. “But it’s sad that we have to set our own salaries.”
Coun. Rob Douglas clarified it would be preferable to have the province set council salary levels, perhaps based on population, rather than the awkward situation where council does it themselves.
“Maybe we should send a letter to the province raising our concerns,” he said.
Coun. Maeve Maguire said being a council member is a major sacrifice for those who step forward and take on the responsibility.
“It’s important that the pay meets the expectations of a full-time job,” she said.
A staff report on the issue said that keeping council members’ remuneration status-quo is not recommended because it would leave council out of alignment with the market and would have a significant impact on future adjustments to pay.
“The task force (which developed the comparable study of the municipalities) noted that without properly compensating council, it can prevent highly skilled individuals from running for public office,” the report stated.