Staff salary process out of touch says Cowichan board

Cowichan Valley Regional District board members have failed to come to a decision about whether to maintain the controversial status quo on compensation for senior managers and exempt management staffers.

The CVRD formed the board and exempt management staff compensation committee in response to public outcry against what some feel to be salaries that are too large and going up too fast.

The recommendations from that committee would have seen the current system continue for how staff salaries and raises are determined as well as give small raises for board members and benefits for electoral area directors.

At their last meeting, the board referred the matter to their regional services committee meeting so they could get more information on how those recommendations were reached.

John Van Horne, manager of the CVRD’s Human Resources Division, detailed for the committee (which is comprised of the board members) the rationale behind salaries and how they are reached.

The process involves looking at what other regional districts pay their staff and aiming to be in the middle of the salary range.

Van Horne also pointed out that the salary rates in question have been increasing at a smaller rate than the budget in general, and as a percentage of the budget, have been decreasing over the last decade to 4.83 per cent in 2013.

The system, he admitted, isn’t ideal but "we shouldn’t avoid going with something good because we’re hoping for something perfect out there."

A number of directors were not convinced.

Dir. Bruce Fraser said that while the system is logical to a point, the CVRD cannot continue to ignore the economics of the larger community in determining how much staff will be paid.

"It’s losing touch with what people feel the external marketplace is," he stated, saying that it is exacerbating an inequality where government officials increasingly have more than those in the community the government is serving.

"I think that’s what people are telling governments across the country," Fraser said. There has to be some consideration of taxpayers’ ability to pay along with consideration of the internal marketplace of regional districts. "The mechanism is disengaged from the rest of society," he said.

It was an idea echoed by Duncan Mayor Phil Kent who had chaired the committee, but said he voted against the recommendations.

"I believe this was a Hoover committee," said Dir. Loren Duncan. "It sucked up the energy, nothing more."

"I don’t believe the community is at all satisfied with what was accomplished," he concluded.

After nearly two hours of discussion, Ladysmith Mayor and CVRD Board Chair Rob Hutchins referred the matter of staff compensation back to the original committee, with instructions to look at widening the scope of comparators to the greater community.

"That, to me, is putting the issue off," argued Kent, but the majority of directors agreed to the referral.

The recommendation for an increase in board compensation, Van Horne said, stems from a need to try to entice and allow more people to serve on local governments.

"There’s an increasing demand on people’s time," he explained, and due to the level of pay for such a position, many people have to maintain other employment as well.

Recommendations to increase board salaries and provide benefits for electoral area directors passed.