Contentious report criticizes municipal wages

Local chief administrative officers comment that municipal wages in the valley represent good value for the taxpayer dollar.

A provincial government report released more than a week ago that criticizes municipal employee wages across B.C. as being too high has created a stir with the Union of British Columbia Municipalities and had a couple of local chief administrative officers commenting that municipal wages in the valley represent good value for the taxpayer dollar.

The report, by accounting company Ernst & Young, was made public on Monday, September 15th and describes unregulated wage policies for B.C. municipalities leading to municipal employee wage increases of 38 per cent, which the report points out is about double the increase for wages for some parts of the provincial public sector.

The Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) — the umbrella organization that represents all local governments in the province — was quick to point out what it says are many flaws in the report, particularly the report’s lack of consultation with municipal governments.

UBCM president Rhona Martin told provincial media that the UBCM had contacted provincial Community, Sports and Cultural Development Minister Coralee Oakes asking if municipal governments would be included in the review when the review was announced, and were told by Ms. Oakes not to worry. Ms. Martin added that although the report looks at municipal employee compensation, no local governments in B.C. were actually contacted for the review.

“We (the UBCM) concur with the report’s acknowledgment that there are inherent data limitations, that a comprehensive review has not been conducted and that further investigation is required. In light of these limitations, and others, we believe it is premature to contemplate the conclusions and recommendations in the (report). We anticipate significant challenges for the province should the (report) be tabled, given the far-reaching implications for local governments,” Ms. Martin wrote in a letter to Ms. Oakes.

“A year ago we raised this issue and said it’s time to take a look at the whole system — local government’s expenditures and the services they provide as well as the wages and compensation,” UBCM communication director Paul Taylor told The Valley Echo. “The province’s report takes a narrow look at one aspect of the issue (compensation). We’re saying let’s look at the whole thing.”

Here in the valley, the three local municipal chief administrative officers all said they didn’t want to wade into the discussion too much, but most of them said municipal taxpayers in the valley are getting a good deal for their money.

“Village (of Canal Flats) council is astute on wages and has been since incorporation,” said Canal Flats chief administrative officer Brian Woodward.

“Speaking from personal experience, provincial and federal public sector employees are paid on the basis of unified pay schedule grids and collective bargaining agreements whereas employees of municipalities have their wage levels decided by each individual municipal council. As such, there is a wide spectrum of pay levels between individual municipalities,” said Radium Hot Springs chief administrative officer Mark Read.

“Considering that the Village of Radium Hot Springs residential tax rate in 2013 ranked 32 out of 161 municipalities in B.C, and considering that eight per cent of your tax dollar goes to the municipal government, I believe that we (Radium Hot Springs), at least, are exercising fiscal restraint and that we represent ‘good value for the money’. Remember too, that municipalities are not allowed to have deficit budgets, which is in stark contrast with the senior levels of government.”

Mr. Read pointed out that while he can’t speak to the senior levels of government, he knows municipalities are having challenges recruiting employees.

“A career in local government just doesn’t appear to be too appealing to the work force. From a market perspective, that may speak to any difference in wage levels, should one actually exist,” he said.

Invermere chief administrative officer Chris Prosser, when contacted by The Valley Echo, said he wasn’t comfortable commenting on the issue, since he hadn’t finished wading through the report yet.

The report is expected to generate a good deal of discussion at the annual UBCM meeting in Whistler this week.

 

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