Possibly the most awkward debate a council can have took place in Squamish last week. The very people getting the pay, councillors and the mayor, had to set the amount of money they were to be paid. In towns across B.C. members of elected councils are part of a small group of people who have the joy of setting their pay rate.
Councillor Bryan Raiser has consistently argued that council members in Squamish should be paid more than what is currently paid so the best candidates are attracted.
Councillor Doug Race has consistently argued that elected officials should treat their work as a community service and expect compensation consistent with that notion.
At a Committee of the Whole meeting this month the Squamish Council members discussed their pay during budget discussions.
Raiser argued for a significant increase and his thoughts were met with opposition from Race, Councillor Ron Sander and Mayor Rob Kirkham.
"One of my objections was that we just got a raise," said Race. He backed up his objection by telling District of Squamish staff that he wanted the amount of the raise kept off his pay.
Last year, Raiser pushed for increases in the stipend paid to council members in 2011 budget discussions. Council agreed last year to push the mayor's pay up to $48,000 a year and councillor-pay was set at 43 per cent of the mayor's salary. Once again this year Raiser has pushed for another increase and this time, after some debate, the current council has settled on another increase. The salary for Kirkham, the mayor, will shoot up to $62,500 and the salary for councillors will jump to $26,875.
The raises represent an increase in the neighbourhood of 30 per cent for each of the elected officials.
Raiser said the increase in pay to the members of council represents a very small percentage of the overall budget for the community. He noted that the budget impact represents an increase of just 0.3 per cent or $51,000.
According to Race, that $51,000 could be spent somewhere else in the community.
Council watchers like 2011 election candidates Auli Parviainen, Nate Dolha and Rob Weys are taking sides.
"The council and mayor is supposed to represent our entire community and with the current pay, it will only allow for a few to consider it," wrote Parviainen in support of the pay increase on an Internet discussion forum.
According to Weys, on the other hand, the benefits and expense reimbursements are fair.
"The current compensation is fair for the size of Squamish," wrote Weys. "Mayor and councillors take office for the greater good of the community not compensation."
Weys also noted the mayor of Whistler reduced her wage as one of her first actions in office.
Dolha responded in support of an increase: "I feel the pay is not in line with the responsibility and time commitment needed to do it right."
At this point, the raises are simply a recommendation as part of the budget process. Residents can share thoughts on the 2012 budget by attending a budget open house scheduled for Monday, April 2 between 6 and 9 p.m. at the Seniors' Centre or by communicating directly with the members of council outside any formal structure.