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Windfall year for some RMOW workers after benefit payouts

Over 100 municipal employees earn more than $75,000 a year



It was a big payday for some municipal employees in 2014, with individual remuneration jumping upwards of $50,000 in some cases for long-term employees.

The one-time financial windfall is due to council's decision in 2012 to change banked sick time and vacation time benefits for municipal employees, with an eye to saving taxpayers money in the long run (see sidebar).

The remuneration, documented in the annual SOFI (Statements of Financial Information) report, also includes the 1.75-per-cent pay increase for 2014.

Though negotiated a few years ago, all three changes came home to roost in the 2014 SOFI report, which includes an alphabetical list of all municipal employees earning more than $75,000.

A total of 109 employees made the list in 2014; that's up from 86 in the 2013 report and marks the first time Whistler has broken the 100-employee mark on the SOFI report.

Municipal CAO Mike Furey said the changes to sick-time benefits and vacation pay are "in favour of taxpayers" in the long run, though it may appear to create big salary increases for individuals this year.

"What you're really seeing is a long-term savings for the municipality and taxpayers via those changes," explained Furey.

Staff had the option of using their banked vacation time or receiving a payout of the time. The total vacation-bank payouts in 2014 were $114,488.

For sick time, staff had the option of keeping the time at current value to be used as sick time and not eligible for payout upon leaving the municipality, or receiving 50 per cent of the banked time as a one-time payout. Total sick-bank payouts for 2014 were $838,598.

The 1.75-per-cent salary increase added another $325,000 to the payroll costs.

Three severances, with agreements for 35 weeks, 39 weeks and 79 weeks, also added pressure to the payroll costs to the tune of $275,701.

Combined, it added a $1.55-million cost to the municipal payroll, which climbed to $27.8 million last year when pension, insurance, overtime and other variables were factored in.

Top earner was CAO Furey at $209,000. His salary did not change over last year.

Other salaries had significant year-over-year increases due to the change in sick bank and vacation bank rules.

One long-time municipal manager who earned $116,000 in 2013 saw a $30,000 increase in remuneration in 2014 to $146,000.

Another long time director at the hall earned $120,000 in 2013 and $176,000 in 2014 — a $56,000 jump.

Likewise a supervisor making $79,000 in the 2013 report, made more than $106,000 in 2014 — a $27,000 increase.

"Because it was under the previous contract, we had a contractual obligation for people who had banked that much, to pay them out what they had banked under the previous contract," said Furey. "That's what you're seeing in the SOFI report."

The money for the accrued sick benefits and the vacation pay had been accounted for as a liability over time, so the benefit payouts do not represent a new expense for the municipality.

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden cautioned that, taken at face value, the SOFI report only paints half the picture. Although it looks like a big balloon in remuneration, the figures do not detail overtime pay, acting pay, and retroactive pay-rate changes, among other things.

"That's one of the problems with the SOFI report, if you have a bit of an anomalous year, you just really can't make heads nor tails out of what it's really saying. That's just the nature of the report," said Wilhelm-Morden.

"I'm very proud of the fact that we're coming off three years of no property tax or fee increases whatsoever and this year was a very modest (tax increase) indeed, yet we are able to deliver the same levels of service and we've provided for a modest increase in salaries for our employees."

The Firefighters

Every firefighter, save one, made the 2014 SOFI list, totaling $2.7 million in wages, including remuneration for the fire chief and deputy.

Top earner in the fire department was Deputy Fire Chief Chris Nelson at $147,026, earning more than the outgoing Fire Chief Sheila Kirkwood. Five firefighters, including Kirkwood and Nelson, received more than $130,000 in remuneration.

The firefighter remuneration includes retroactive pay rises for 2011.

Previously, the municipality negotiated three separate salary increases for the fire department — 1.25 per cent in January 2011, 1.25 per cent in July 2011 and 0.33 per cent in December 2011.

That retroactive pay for 2011 totals $418,533 and is included in the 2014 report — one more pressure on the 2014 municipal payroll.

The fire services department has been without a new contract since December 2010.

"We're in negotiations with the fire service now that are active and we don't have any comment on those," said Furey.

Impact of Events

The growing impact and cost of events is also apparent in the 2014 SOFI report, which also includes an alphabetical list of municipal suppliers over $25,000.

On the suppliers list are Wanderlust ($67,901), Tough Mudder ($163,800), Ironman ($124,208 – with another $100,000 invoiced for 2014 to be included in the 2015 SOFI), Pemberton Music Festival ($26,250 — traffic management and implementation plan), TOIT Events ($55,325) and Vancouver Symphony Orchestra ($102,095).

The list also shows a payment to brand.LIVE of $135,041 and a payment to 10Eighty Production Technologies of $322,914. The former is for the Whistler Presents Concert Series, the later for the audiovisual services at Whistler Olympic Plaza.

There is also a $769,000 payment to Whistler Blackcomb. This compares to a $493,000 payment for 2013. The largest costs in this contract are the day lot maintenance, the World Ski and Snowboard Festival, Crankworx and the GO Festival. GO Fest was new in 2014 and accounts for most of the increase from 2013 to 2014.

For more information on the SOFI report, go to

Why change sick time and vacation time?

The municipality provided a fictional example to explain the rationale to the changes to sick time and vacation time. John Doe would not have appeared in the SOFI report had it not been for the payouts.

1. Total earnings in 2014 with new sick time and vacation time payout rules:John Doe is a 24-year employee who began as Building Clerk in 1990 and advanced to a Plan Checker in 1999. John had banked 30 days in the sick bank and 60 days in the vacation bank. Here is what John's remuneration looked like for 2014:

Pay — $72,090 (included a 1.75% pay increase)

Sick bank payout (50 per cent of the 30 days) — $4,621

Vacation bank payout — $18,485

Total = $95,196

2. Total earnings if sick bank payout and vacation carryover maximum had not be changed and employee retired in 2020:

John Doe is a 30-year employee who began as Building Clerk in 1990, advanced to a Plan Checker in 1999 and Building Manager in 2005. John had banked 50 days of sick bank and 80 days of vacation bank. Here is what John's remuneration would have looked like in 2020:

Pay — $80,000 (2020 salary)

Sick bank payout (50 per cent of the 25 days) — $8,548

Vacation bank payout — $27,354

Total = $115,902

Staff can still bank sick days, up to a maximum of 120 days, but here is no more payout of sick bank days when an employee leaves the employment of the RMOW, except under very specific circumstances.


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