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Small pay raise for next councillors

Some disappointed, others content by committee’s recommendations

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The next Whistler councillors will each get a $1,000 raise when they take office in November.

The annual salary for the new councillors will be slightly more than $19,000 a year. The figure is based on roughly 20 hours of work a week. The mayor’s salary on the other hand will remain the same at $53,400, based on a full-time job of between 30 to 40 hours a week.

These recommendations were presented to council on Monday night from the three-member council remuneration committee.

For some, the recommendations were disappointing.

"I was hoping for more positive change in the scale… considering that we’re in effect the board of directors of a $50 million a year corporation, supervising $225 million worth of assets and responsible for the health and wellbeing of our billion dollar economy, " said Councillor Gordon McKeever the following day.

His colleague Councillor Nick Davies however was content with the raise, and said he would have been content had the councillor salary stayed the same.

"The money that we are paid is an honorarium," he said, after the council meeting. "I don’t look at it as a wage-earning position."

The remuneration committee was made up of three familiar faces in the community, namely Dallas Cristofoli, Sue Adams and John Grills.

To reach their recommendations, the committee not only interviewed each member of council but also gathered comparative data from across the province and beyond.

What they found was that the ratio between the mayor’s stipend and the councillors’ stipend was 2.95 to 1, or the average of the eight communities that were used for comparison. Among those communities were the six Lower Mainland cities the municipality uses for its comparative staff wage structure, as well as Abbotsford and Kelowna, two places that have experienced rapid growth in recent years.

"Then of course, the question becomes: who do we compare to?" said Cristofoli in her presentation of the committee’s recommendations.

In the end the committee agreed councillors should get a slight raise to compensate for the two months every year where they fill in as the acting mayor in the event the mayor is away or unable to fulfill his duties. And the mayor’s salary sticks at $53,400.

Davies took exception to that part of the recommendation, in part because Whistler’s mayor’s salary was the second lowest of all the cities the committee compared. Only West Vancouver was lower at $51,000 based on 2003 data. The mayors of Coquitlam, Abbotsford and Kelowna all make more than $70,000.

"I tell you what I am disappointed in is the report did not appear to set out how they arrived at the salary for the mayor’s job," said Davies. "I think that our mayor should be paid more. There should be recognition that it’s essentially a full time job and it’s a significant burden and the remuneration should reflect that.

"I think that the work burden on the mayor is going to increase in the coming years with the Olympics."

Mayor Hugh O’Reilly however said he was very receptive to the committee’s recommendations, adding that council’s work is community work.

"We do it by choice," he said at Monday’s meeting.

Councillor Kristi Wells, however, argued that the remuneration may limit the number of people or the kind of people choosing to run for municipal office. It may not be financially viable for some to run, leaving the job of elected officials to the wealthy or people of independent means.

Some of her fellow councillors echoed her comments the following day.

"We do have some major affordability issues in our community and combined with typically lower wages… you (get) concerned that council will just be for the people that can afford to do it," said Councillor Caroline Lamont.

"I just think the ability to get quality candidates has been a challenge, particularly as things get more and more expensive."

Council pay is one of the things Lamont is weighing carefully as she decides whether or not she will run for council again in November’s election.

The remuneration committee also suggested council could find some efficiencies in how they operate which would reduce their workload.

"We spend too much time doing this job," agreed Davies. "We waste time."

He suggested a number of options to reduce that time commitment including saying "no" to what he called the unnecessary meetings called by some individual councillors recently and invitations to join committees and attend events.

Melamed agreed: "We have to be very strong in saying "no" to all the invitations."

He said that had the committee given council any more money he would have felt compelled to spend more time away from his family, something he does not want to do.

Melamed also suggested that municipal staff negotiate three corporate ski passes for the seven members of council as an added perk.

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