The Penticton city council voted to give itself a pay raise on June 18 at the regular meeting. This comes after the recommendation by an external task force that reviewed council’s current remuneration. (Google Maps image)

Penticton city council gives itself pay raise

Decision was based on recommendation by an external task force that reviewed council’s remuneration

Penticton city councillors voted 4-3 to give themselves a raise, based on the recommendation of an external advisory compensation task force.

Mayor John Vassilaki will see a raise of $3,300 per year while the other members of council will see an increase of $1,760 per year, on top of receiving what would equal their one-third tax-free benefit, $9,893 for the mayor and $2,000 for council, totalling a 20 per cent raise for Vassilaki and 17 per cent for council members. This was determined after the task force, which was formed in November 2018 with five community members “well-versed in government and business leadership,” who looked at communities of comparable size and the compensation they provide to their council members.

“In the end, we looked at averages and Penticton would fall in the mid-range of what was happening in other communities. And that led us to some numbers, and we’ll relate that ratio to average income or to assessed value,” said Bob Heywood, one of the members of the task force. “And we looked at the per capita cost to the municipality for the mayor’s salary and the councillors’ salaries and looked for consistency of that in the cities we look at. The numbers that we arrived at are in the medium range of cities in similar size.”

Heywood said it was hard to identify consistent criteria to evaluate council remuneration, and while the task force is confident in its recommendations, it also suggested that the city reach out to UBCM to implement a study that could better identify criteria and data to compare for future remuneration discussions.

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“We tried to apply as much objective research as we could to look at comparables and criteria that we could use to evaluate various communities around the province in terms of their compensation and so on,” said Heywood. “In the final analysis, there was no one criteria that we could rely on to look at consistently over time that applied to all communities. We looked at things like the ratio of average income to assessed values and aspects such as that to arrive at something to look at with some level of consistency. We did some research, but largely relied on our individual experiences and abilities in the financial world to make this analysis.”

“It should be mentioned that the job of municipal councillors is increasingly difficult. We have had a long period of what municipalities like to refer to as downloading by provincial and federal governments, increasing the responsibilities of local government,” said Heywood. “The local governments are more accessible to the public, so you take a lot of heat. And the job of the provinces and the federal government implementing programs which usually engage the municipality in some way increases the complexity of the jobs of the municipal government.”

Haywood said the task force was concerned with an adjustment to a federal tax benefit that used to provide elected politicians one-third of their pay tax-free, which resulted in “a loss of income for all of the councillors and mayors all over the province, and I would imagine in other provinces as well.”

“In our analysis of looking at other municipalities, most had made an adjustment (due to the tax rate change). The feeling in all of the places that we considered was that there was no viable reason why the individual mayor and councillors should take a cut in pay due to changes in federal tax policy,” said Heywood. “We didn’t consider that an increase in pay, that was just to retain the level at the past rates.”

They also looked at the health benefits available to council members, and Heywood noted that a lot of municipalities do not cover these benefits for mayor and council. He said they believed “the plans should be made available to mayor and council at their choosing, but at no cost to the municipality,” so the benefits would be individually-funded by the council members if they so choose.

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Heywood said the task force recommended that the city following the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen’s (RDOS) lead in establishing a zone rate for per diem expenses such as food and gas, meaning that the rate would be higher in an area like Vancouver and lower within the Thompson Okanagan. The task force also recommended that this remuneration be reviewed again in five years since the last review was done in 2002, and the CPI Index at that time was lower.

“Council gets an allowance for incidental expenses when you go about business in the city. In the past, what you didn’t use on that was paid out to you at the end of the year. Our recommendation is to continue to have that money available, but what is not used at the end be paid back to the city,” said Heywood. “The idea behind that is to encourage you to get out into the community and engage the community more. You’re not going to save money by not doing that.”

The task force also suggested that council direct staff to design a process where councillor attendance at committee and council meetings be disclosed to the public throughout the year. This could be used as a measure to gauge council performance, something the task force did not take into consideration.

Coun. Campbell Watt did not agree with council implementing its own raise and suggested having this reviewed over the next three years to be implemented for the next council. He also suggested setting a practice of having council remuneration done every four years so that it occurs before an election and Couns. Frank Regher and Julius Bloomfield echoed his sentiments. While Coun. Jake Kimberley admitted it is “uncomfortable” to consider approving your own raise, he did not want to put it off until the next council. Vassilaki advocated for the raise for the council due to their hard work and the time commitment they take on in their roles. Couns. Judy Sentes andKatie Robinson suggested these raises were fair, especially with the changes to the tax-benefit.

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Jordyn Thomson | Reporter
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