District Council votes in a pay raise

Independent review compares to other municipalities and recommends remuneration raise for both mayor and council members

Following an independent review, the District of Kent Council voted in a raise for the mayor and councillors.

The mayor’s remuneration increased from $24,419 to $33,239, while councillor remuneration went from $12,111 to $15,736.

Paul McKivett from James R. Craven Associates Ltd. spoke to the report during the meeting. He noted the demands on elected official’s time, from meetings to reading reports to discussing issues with citizens. There are functions local officials are expected to attend that have nothing to do with their elected roles. All these tasks take mayors and councillors away from their family and friends, and require many hours each week. McKivett said estimates range from 20 to 30 hours per week that elected members spend to fulfill the requirements of public office, with expectations of locally elected officials increasing each year.

“The primary thing to remember is, holding elected office is not the same as holding a job. But neither is it a volunteer position,” said McKivett. “There is a great deal expected of you.”

The company chose eight different municipalities with which to compare the District’s numbers, finding ones that are rural in nature and not located adjacent to major metropolitan areas, “because that tends to skew what the remuneration is,” explained McKivett.

All the municipalities chosen for comparison are smaller than the District, though McKivett said population size is not the only factor to consider when determining fair compensation. Municipalities included Smithers, Gibsons, Venderhoof, Grand Forks, Port Hardy, Sparwood, Chetwynd and Ucluelet. Every single one of them pay their elected officials more than the District. The District of Kent mayor’s remuneration was more than $8,800 below the average of $33,238.63. Councillors elsewhere made an average of $15,729.88, or about $3,600 more than the District’s councillors.

Within the Fraser Valley Regional District, including Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Mission, Kent, Hope and Harrison Hot Springs, the average salary is $55,416 for a mayor and $22,864 for councillors. Harrison Hot Spring’s mayor makes $30,000 a year while councillors made $15,000. Harrison’s population is under 1,500. The District of Kent’s population is almost 5,900.

In discussion prior to the vote, Councillor Darcy Striker questioned the suggested time an elected official spends on municipal work of 20 to 30 hours. He says when he sat in as acting mayor, it was a huge volume of time for him and he did not even attend all the meetings. Councillor Sylvia Pranger recalled when she was mayor, it was probably more like 60 hours a week spent on the job.

Pranger said while the remuneration amount does not matter to her personally, what she hopes is that a higher compensation may encourage younger people to try out for elected office as they have a lot to contribute to the table.

Councillor Duane Post agreed with Striker, saying he knows the mayor puts in much more time than councillors do. However, he said, “I do have a problem with it increasing by a third.”

Post proposed raising the mayor’s renumeration to an even $30,000 and $13,500 for councillors.

Mayor John Van Laerhoven reflected that while the job is not 24 / 7, duties can arise at any time that call for his attention.

“There is a considerable time commitment,” he admitted. “Issues come up at any time.”

While Van Laerhoven and councillors spoke to the difficulty of voting oneself a raise, CAO Wallace Mah pointed out that administration recommended McKivett’s company to compare rates and make a suggestion. So, it was not Council putting forward this recommendation but rather an unbiased outsider.

Council voted in favour of the new remuneration rates, with Councillor Post opposed.

The last review in the District was done in 2009, with only cost of living adjustments applied since that date.

Before he took his leave, McKivett paused and told the elected officials sitting at the table, “Most councils don’t have this discussion in public like this, and you’re to be commended for doing it.”

James R. Craven Associates Ltd. has done 25 to 30 renumeration studies over the past eight years, according to McKivett.