The question of remuneration for the mayor and councillors of Central Saanich has fallen off table at least for the time being following Monday’s council meeting.
Mayor Ryan Windsor Monday withdrew a motion that called on the municipality to set the remuneration for the mayor and council at the same level as Esquimalt, with councillor remuneration to be set at 40 per cent of the mayors’ salary with all receiving annual cost of living adjustments.
The motion dating back to last month never came up for a vote as councillors postponed a vote pending receipt of a report reviewing remuneration and benefits “based on time devoted to the position and the decision making complexity” along with additional language that among other points asked staff to compare the municipality with other jurisdictions and study the effects of tax law changes on remuneration rates.
The public heard Monday that staff had not worked on the report against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Windsor’s decision to withdraw his motion subsequently prompted Coun. Zeb King to withdraw his notice of motion calling on the current council not to consider the issue and that the pending report investigating the issue “shall be presented for information to candidates and voters just prior to the 2022 municipal election.”
During prior discussions on remuneration, Windsor and King had found themselves on opposite sides of the debate, and Monday’s moves appear as a ceasefire on the subject.
If the previously proposed increases had gone ahead, Windsor’s remuneration would have go up by 65 per cent, while the remuneration of councillors would go up by about 50 per cent. This said, the actual net increase would have been significantly less, because of recent tax changes. “For most members of council I understand that this change resulted in net remuneration amount being the same as prior to the changes in 2019,” said Windsor prior to Monday’s council meeting. “Based on this proposed but not voted on motion I submitted would result in a bump of 25-30 per cent not 50-65 per cent as suggested.”
Esquimalt council unanimously voted in the fall of 2018 to increase to salaries for mayor and council. The mayor now collects $57,600 per year, up roughly 16 per cent from $48,225.20. Each of the six councillors in Esquimalt receives a rate of 40 per cent of the mayor’s salary — about $23,040, up about 10 per cent from $20,779.60. The vote took place before the 2018 municipal election and applies to the current council.
Months before Esquimalt’s decision in February 2018, Central Saanich also raised remuneration rates, raising the mayor’s pay from $31,077 to $34,800 and councillor pay from $13,653 to $15,300. But that debate revealed among other points dissatisfaction with changes to federal tax law that have actually cut into the salaries of council members.
King acknowledged before Monday’s meeting that the majority of council voted in favour of the staff report in restating his opposition to the proposed increase.
Looking back at the initial debate in March, Windsor acknowledged the politically sensitive nature of the issue with councillors voting on their own remunerations and called on the province to develop appropriate guidelines. With figures in other communities range all over the place, Windsor said he chose Esquimalt as a comparative because of the similarities that the communities share. He also argued that the issue of compensation might actually deter candidates from running for municipal office.
“Compensation is a reality when people are running, because they are giving up an enormous amount of time,” he said in pointing to various commitments of council members.
Looking back at the initial debate in March, King said money was not the reason why he entered municipal politics.
More intrinsic forms of motivation rather than extrinsic ones are driving his commitment, said King. “We don’t have to do this,” he said. “This is a choice.”
With the exception of Coun. Gord Newton though, the majority of councillors agreed with Windsor’s push rather than King.
Coun. Bob Thompson pointed out among other points that most individuals enter municipal politics because they “first and foremost” they are driven by a “strong sense of public service and a desire to make their communities better.”
Remuneration, he said, is not in most cases an important motivating factor. “Individuals who do make the commitment to serve as local elected officials, however, should be able to expect fair and reasonable compensation.”
Time requirements can be significant, said Thompson, adding that councillors would be less dissatisfied now if they had settled for higher remuneration rates back in February 2018.
Ultimately though, the issue may not be a pressing one in light of COVID-19. “I understood the consensus among council was that this item, along with much of the other business we conduct through our various plans, would need to be discussed in the future after the current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic is resolved,” said Windsor before Monday’s meeting.
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