Editorial — Less than automatic pay raises

In all the debate and discussion over rising property taxes in the past few months, one suggested way to ease increased municipal spending has remained off the table.
It took a member of the audience at Langley City council’s Monday meeting, which was dealing with the 2011 budget, to bring it up.
This possible saving would be a suspension of the wage increases that automatically go to all municipal administrators and other non-union staff, so that their wages keep pace with the unionized employees they supervise.
The rich five-year contract agreed to by most Lower Mainland municipalities and the Canadian Union of Public Employees is the main reason that taxes are rising in both the City and Township. This contract, signed when times were still good, called for wage increases of three to four per cent each year, with 2011 the final year.
It has long been the practice at virtually all municipalities that administrators get the same wage increases as unionized staff. In years gone by, this was very reasonable — there was little wage discrepancy between unionized municipal staff and most other workers.
In recent years, the gap has grown  considerably, with the latest five-year series of increases making that gap even wider. Coupled with the fact that municipalities rarely lay anyone off, and with generous pension plans that few private-sector workers will ever enjoy, the gap is becoming untenable.
Municipal administrators deserve to be fairly paid. They are asked to do a great deal, and many work far more than 40 hours per week.They also have to put up with squabbling politicians (as in Langley Township), and that is not a good way to avoid tension and stress.
However, a wage freeze for municipal non-union staff would make sense this year, as a way to ease spending at a time when taxpayers are being hit from all directions. Whether it will be discussed at all remains to be seen.
At the same time, councils could set an example by reducing their wages by four per cent, close to the additional amount they are asking from taxpayers. While the move would be almost wholly symbolic, such symbolism would demonstrate to taxpayers that they have heard their concerns about ever-increasing taxes.
It might even gain incumbents a few votes this November.

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