When it comes to municipal salaries, Salmon Arm Mayor Nancy Cooper would like to have a chat with the premier.
Clark wants rising municipal pay rates to be front and centre in November elections around B.C., and that’s why her government set off a storm at the annual local government convention by releasing an unflattering comparison study with provincial pay.
In her speech to close the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, Clark told 2,000 local government delegates she is “not here to point a finger” at local governments, but she wants them to do the hard work of negotiations as the province did in the recent dispute with B.C. teachers.
A study by Ernst & Young was released days before the convention by the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation. It calculated that unionized municipal staff received pay increases of 38 per cent between 2001 and 2012, twice as much as unionized provincial staff, and ahead of inflation of 23 per cent during the same period.
“I think it’s a legitimate issue to be discussed because it’s taxpayers who pay for these compensation costs,” Clark told reporters after her speech. “Further than that we’ll wait until we have new municipal councils to speak with, and then we can talk about the next steps.”
But Cooper says she believes the premier has been misinformed and needs to speak with mayors like herself, who are facing increasing staffing pressures.
“There seems to be a shrinking talent pool and if you want to hire and keep really good people, you need to pay them more,” said Cooper.
Salaries in the city for administrative staff have increased, in some cases in the range of 45 per cent over the last 10 years. The salary for the city’s chief administrative officer went from $99,002 in 2003 to $147,190 in 2013. The chief financial officer position has gone from $82,529 in 2003 to $119,866 in 2013, while the director of development services position moved from $77,780 in 2003 to $99,373 in 2013.
The budget for city staff who make less than $75,000 each, who are primarily the union staff, has gone from $4.3 million in 2003 to $4.7 million in 2013. That being said, in 2003 there were only five employees making more than $75,000 in the city. In 2013, there were 20 city employees making over $75,000.
But Cooper points out that Doug Lagore, who was the city’s chief administrator in 2003, left the city for a healthy pay increase in an Alberta community.
“At all levels, our staff are being recruited by other communities and we often can’t pay as much, so we lose good people — it becomes a real balancing act.”
While Cooper can’t speak to increases given when she was not a part of municipal government, she says raises during her terms have been modest.
“We’re looking at numbers like one-and-a-half per cent over cost of living, there have not been any huge raises. We can just be thankful we have staff who choose to stay because they put their hearts into this community. We have staff at every level who do that and I think if you look around the city, you will see that.”
Cooper points out that there is a cost to the city if it does not retain staff, as well as potential costs if staff aren’t well- suited to their positions.
“If we don’t have good staff we can end up in lawsuits. We can end up in lawsuits anyway, but at least with good staff who know their jobs, we can protect ourselves.”
Cooper referred to a case where the city was being sued for $1.8 million and the city’s lawyer told her that if the staff hadn’t done such a good job of documenting the situation, the case could easily have been lost — costing the taxpayers a significant pay-out.
“I would like to see Christy Clark sit down with smaller communities and see the challenges we are facing. I’d love to sit and have that conversation. I think things can look very different when you talk to people rather than just look at a report.”