Revelstoke City Council’s proposed budget includes raises for mayor and council to be implemented over the next three years.
If approved, the mayor will see an increase from $30,600 to $70,000 a year and councillors will see an increase from $15,300 to $25,000.
This means an approximately 0.2 per cent property tax increase this year, with an smaller increase the next year and even smaller the year after that, said Tania McCabe, director of finance for the city.
In 2020, councillors will be paid $19,000, $22,000 in 2021 and $25,000 in 2022. The mayor’s remuneration will increase to $44,000 in 2020, $57,000 in 2021 and $70,000 in 2022 – when the next election is held.
However, even without this proposal, mayor and council salaries would have increased this year, but by a much smaller amount. The increase is to compensate for a change in Federal law that now requires municipal officials pay income tax on their salary instead of only two-thirds. For the mayor, it would have been an increase of $3,700, for councillors it would have been an increase of $1,800.
For councillor Steven Cross, the proposal to increase mayor and council salaries by 134 per cent and 67 per cent was unacceptable. He resigned at the Jan. 21 council meeting when his proposal to remove the raises from the budget and redirect them to paving and infrastructure projects was denied.
“I didn’t resign because I didn’t get my way, I resigned because the process council decided to use and its sense of priority was fundamentally flawed where self interest was trumping community service,” Cross said in an interview with The Review the next day.
Councillor Michael Brooks-Hill voted in favour of Cross’ motion.
“When we all ran for office we all said we wanted to work for a better community,” he said at the council meeting. “None of us said we wanted to increase council salaries. This motion is talking about putting money into the community or giving money to ourselves. It’s that simple.”
However, Rob Elliott, Nicole Cherlet and Cody Younker and Mayor Gary Sulz voted against the motion. Councillor Jackie Rhind was not at the meeting.
“I just believe with the revenue hole, with the number of things that are facing us, we should slow down this process,” Cross said at the meeting.
This year the City of Revelstoke faces a $550,000 shortfall because Revelstoke Mountain Resort is paying less property taxes due to successful property assessment appeals that saw a handful of condos in Sutton Place to be reclassified.
How we got here
The raises were first proposed by Councillor Younker during budget discussions in November, with Cross disagreeing even then.
“I would be willing to have this discussion if we had really proved ourselves to our citizens,” Cross said, at the time.
Arguments around the council table in favour of increasing the wages included attracting more people to run in the next election, increasing respect for the position and providing living wages.
Councillors’ pay hadn’t been significantly increased in more than five years. In 2014, the total budget for council and mayor remuneration was $112,000. In 2019, the budget was $122,000.
“I don’t think other people that are outside this table, unless you have sat at it, truly comprehend the pressure of trying to balance everything and appease the community,” Younker said, at the Jan. 9 council meeting. “It’s quite something.”
Mayor Gary Sulz agreed.
“Right now I am working two full time jobs,” he said.
However, the research on how much to increase council remuneration was done soley by Younker. And Cross did not approve.
“I’m not against the raises,” Cross said in November. “I have huge issues with the ethics of just making a decision without third party review and input, and with making a decision to make it effective for ourselves and not just for the next council.”
At the Jan. 9 budget meeting, which Cross was absent from, a motion was made by Brooks-Hill to defer the raises until the end of the term and perhaps implement them for the next city council. However, it was defeated.
Brooks-Hill also made a motion to decrease the mayor’s pay from $70,000 a year to $50,000, meaning the mayor would make double what the councillors make, instead of triple. That motion was also defeated.
According to a 2019 remuneration guide from the Union of BC Municipalities, a good starting point for councillor salaries is 40 per cent of the mayors. However, the report notes that the percentages can vary based on salary from comparable municipalities, part time versus full time and population size.
The next step in the budget process is to discuss tax distribution. From there Tania McCabe, director of finance for the city, will create the official budget documents and a public consultation will be done. McCabe will present council with community feedback. At that point council can change the budget again, if they so choose, before it is made into a bylaw.
“The reality from a council point of view is that all the motions to try to change this have been defeated,” Cross said, the day after his resignation. “In B.C. you can’t bring a motion back that has been defeated, only the mayor has the option to bring back a defeated motion and this clearly wasn’t going to happen in this case. For all intents and purposes this is a done deal.”
Cross gave two weeks notice, with his last day being Feb. 7, 2020. A by-election will have to be held to replace Cross.
According to legislation, the city has six months to call the by-election. CAO Dawn Low said elections generally cost the city $20,000-$25,000.
Across the province, municipal council’s have had varying degrees of success in giving themselves a raise.
For 2016 in Abbotsford, politicians tied their salaries to those of their citizens. The move meant councillors were paid three-quarters the average salary of a full-time worker in Abbotsford.
Victoria residents offered a resounding ‘no’ when asked if councillors should receive a 55 per cent pay raise in December 2019.
In Metro Vancouver, the regional district board members voted to give themselves a raise in 2018 and back tracked after public controversy.
The former Nelson city council voted, at the end of their term, to give the newly elected city council a raise bringing councillors to $25,000 and their mayor to $59,500.
With files by Liam Harrap.