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Taxes and the art of municipal maintenance

RMOW efforts to limit property tax hike to four per cent include stringent department engagement



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A common question asked of municipal authorities is what income their position would generate in the private sector. It's a fair query, given that in 2009 Whistler's municipal salaries soaked up about 68.5 per cent of revenue from property taxes. In 2008 they absorbed 57.5 per cent and in 2007 55.8 per cent.

"We have about 250-350 people who work for us in a very wide range of positions and so while people might be able to find some examples where a wage scale might be higher here than it might be in a comparable position in the public sector, I can find other anecdotes of the reverse," said Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed, adding that keeping Whistler to specific standards often takes more than most private sector services can provide.

"It's not a fair comparison because you can't just look at wages. The service under the old model was not up to the standards of the original village so in order to maintain that consistency and quality of the experience for the visitors we had taken that over by our municipal staff. I don't think that means we're paying more, it means we're paying fair wages but we can be assured more of the quality of the look and feel around the village."

According to data compiled by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, B.C. municipal workers earn on average 10.4 per cent more than their private sector counterparts in the same job. That number jumps to 34 per cent when benefits are factored in.

RMOW bases its wages and financial benefits on six Metro Vancouver municipalities - the District of West Vancouver; the District of North Vancouver; the City of North Vancouver and the City of Coquitlam. When wages go up in those communities so do Whistler's.

Those cities will be renegotiating their wages in 2011 and Melamed says that's when decisions will be made surrounding RMOW payouts, including the possibility of a wage freeze, a topic he says is always being batted around.

"Currently the policy the municipality has is to wait until the Lower Mainland union negotiations are complete and we generally have adopted that wage agreement and apply it across our contract with some slight modifications because remember, only a small portion of our staff are unionized and the rest are non-unionized but they have an employee handbook that is essentially a contract," he said.

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