The Langley directors on the Metro Vancouver board are pushing for a new debate on the controversial retirement allowance that was approved in March.
Langley Township councillor Bob Long has served notice he will be seeking another vote on the matter at the April 27 meeting of the board and Langley City councillor Rudy Storteboom said he will second the Long motion when it is presented, ensuring there is a debate.
“I want to have it reconsidered,” said Long.
“If it is controversial, we should bring it back for (a) conversation” Storteboom said.
The retirement allowance has generated considerable criticism since it was adopted at the end of the March 23 meeting of Metro directors .
Several Metro directors opposed the move.
Coquitlam Coun. Brent Asmundson questioned the wisdom of making the decision during an election year.
“With the number of people that are leaving, I don’t think it’ll be well received by the public that we have so many people who are longtime members getting a retroactive pension on their way out the door,” Asmundson said.
Burnaby Coun. Colleen Jordan said she was concerned about the fast turnover of board members leading to too many pensions.
“We have people on this board who sit for one year because their councils only appoint them for one year,” said Jordan. “Do we really think they need a 10 per cent ‘leaving allowance’ on top of their meeting stipend?”
Board vice-chair and Vancouver Coun. Raymond Louie supported the allowance: “I don’t think it’s a stretch for us to also recognize the long service – and perhaps short service – that each of us provide to this organization.”
In several media interviews, West Vancouver mayor Michael Smith has promised to bring in a motion to eliminate the allowance at the next board meeting.
However, Long said that can’t happen under the rules governing Metro board meetings, because only a director who supported a measure can bring it back for reconsideration.
While Smith was not present at the board meeting that approved the allowance, the West Vancouver council member who serves as an alternate director was there, and voted against the proposal.
That appears to mean West Vancouver can’t properly push for a new vote, Long said.
But Long and Storteboom, who both voted for the measure, are able to push for reconsideration.
“I think we’re ready to deal with it properly and we have the time and the tools to do it,” Long said.
“This is what governance is all about. This is democracy in action.”
Both directors said the discussion at the meeting was hampered by the fact the retirement allowance proposal had been combined with a separate proposal to boost directors pay to compensate for a federal decision to eliminate a tax break for municipal officials.
“It’s one bylaw that had two pieces in it,” Long said.
“It probably should have been referred back for further study,” he added.
“It was kind of like, take or leave it,” Storteboom said.
The Langley City councillor said the combined proposals were a late addition to the agenda of the board meeting, and he would have liked more time to consult with his Langley City council colleagues.
Meanwhile, Metro Vancouver Board Chair Greg Moore has issued a press release to announce his intention to bring a motion for reconsideration of the recently approved Board Remuneration Bylaw at the upcoming board meeting on April 27.
“As local government, we pride ourselves in listening to our citizens and finding solutions,” the Moore statement said.
“Over the past week we’ve received a tremendous amount of feedback and clearly we missed the mark with respect to the new remuneration bylaw.”
Intended to be the equivalent to the pension contribution a Metro Vancouver employee would receive, the retirement allowance would amount to 10.2 per cent of earnings, which is about $1,100 a year for all members who choose to leave or are not re-elected, going back to 2007.
The overall financial impact to the budget was projected to be about $498,000 with future costs of about $62,500 a year
A report to the board by the chief financial officer of the regional district, Phil Trotzuk, said a review by staff found there was a retirement benefit or pension equivalent for municipal politicians in six of the municipalities that are members of the Metro Vancouver regional district (including Surrey, Port Coquitlam and Vancouver), as well as many municipalities in other provinces, and all municipalities in Quebec.
Politicians elected to provincial legislatures and the federal government also get pensions, the report noted.
Metro Vancouver board members are appointed from the city councils of member cities. They receive a per-meeting stipend for the part-time position of $387 for meeting up to four hours and $775 for meetings over four hours.
Storteboom said in his case, that works out to about $13,500 a year to help administer a regional authority with a $761 million budget and more than $6 billion in assets.
“We really need to encourage people to step up,” Storteboom said.
“It’s an honour and a privilege (to hold public office), but you still have to pay the bills.”
All municipalities were affected by the 2017 federal budget, in which the government announced a tax break for municipal politicians would be eliminated, saying the tax exemptions for non-accountable expense allowances “is only available to certain provincial, territorial and municipal office holders, and provides an advantage that other Canadians do not enjoy.”
The one-third tax-free expense allowance was introduced in 1947 under the federal Income Tax Act to provide “an allowance for expenses incidental to the discharge of the person’s duties as an elected officer.”
Langley City council adjusted pay rates to reflect the change after an independent consultant found that the Federal Government decision would mean all the remuneration provided by the City would now be taxable.
As a result, the Mayor’s remuneration would need to increase 11 per cent to keep the same net pay he had before the federal government’s change.