Between 2012 and 2013 Tofino moved from 10th to 19th on the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses’ list of BC’s freest spending and least sustainable municipalities, which is an improvement, but it’s not a list taxpayers generally like seeing themselves on.
Tofino’s recently hired CAO Bob MacPherson says he has heard this type of rhetoric before and is aware that some taxpayers believe they’re overspending on public sector salaries.
“I’ve certainly heard that comment from time to time, not necessarily in Tofino but it’s a comment that we certainly do hear,” he said. “Is it something I agree with? No I don’t; we have people with a pretty specific skill set that we hire, we pay people fairly, we treat them fairly.”
He said Tofino needs to stay competitive with other municipalities to keep a winning team working within the district office. “Labour is very mobile now and I believe we need to be competitive in the larger labour market,” he said. “We need to be competitive with what other municipalities are paying…if we’re paying significantly less than other municipalities it would be challenging to retain an employee.”
MacPherson has worked in local government for 22 years and he believes Tofino gets exceptional value out of its employees here,” he said.
“The people here are conscientious, they’re hard working, I’m really pleased in that respect with what I’ve walked into; very committed employees here.”
A lot is put on the table’s of Tofino’s staff who must face the unique challenge of catering to a population that swells in the summer while putting significant sweat-equity into researching effective spending strategies for Resource Municipality Initiative funds.
“I think you would find with every municipality there are challenges that push workload, in our case it’s driven quite a bit by the tourism industry, you might find somewhere else it’s driven by agriculture or the banking industry,” MacPherson said.
He said there are days-particularly right now as the district’s finance team is trying to churn year-end numbers across the goal line while preparing Tofino’s draft budget-when hiring additional staff seems like a no-brainer but tax-dollars are hard to spend.
In order for MacPherson to hire more staff he needs council’s permission to increase his budget and every penny of increase comes from the tax base.
“With every decision we make we’re considering how we’re spending tax dollars,” he said. “As staff and certainly council we have a responsibility to the people who are paying for the operation to spend their money in as responsible a way as possible.” He does not see any hiring sprees on Tofino’s horizon.
“We have enough,” he said. “We’re able to do the work that council expects of us, I think we’d like to be able to do more of it and faster but I don’t think it’s realistic that we’re going to have significant increases in staff in the next while.”
Outside of management, the district’s employees are part of a collective agreement the district has with the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
“The numbers are what they are in terms of what we’re paying all of our employees, they were agreed upon when I came here it’s not really something I’ve turned my mind to…we have an agreement, we’re going to honour the agreement,” he said.
Tofino’s current CUPE agreement is up in March 2015.
The Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation published a Beggars Checklist in 2009 that suggests, “In addition to lucrative salaries and secure employment, civil servants also enjoy incomparable pension benefits.”
Tofino complies with a provincially established and mandated municipal pension program.
“That money doesn’t sit with the district of Tofino that money goes to a provincial body who invests it on behalf of the employers and employees that contribute to it,” he said.