One of the last acts of Tofino’s now former council was to move forward a pay increase for their successors, though final approval will arrive on the new council’s desk during their first regular meeting on Nov. 8.
During the last regular meeting of their term on Oct. 11, council gave three readings to a council remuneration bylaw amendment that will see a living wage paid to councillors based on an 18-hour work week and to the mayor based on a 40-hour work week.
With the region’s living wage currently at $21.15, that would bring each councillor’s annual salary up to $19,796 and the mayor’s up to $43,992.
Tofino currently has six council seats, which carry a base-rate remuneration of $15,900 and a $31,801 remuneration for the mayor.
The new salaries would bring a roughly 1 per cent tax increase to residents.
The amendment was brought forward by Tofino CAO Nyla Attiana during Sept. 27’s regular meeting.
Attiana noted council received a pay increase in 2018 and a similar approach was taken this time around with a Council Remuneration Advisory Group presenting a recommendation.
The advisory group was appointed by Attiana and consists of three members, a person who has served on council, a person who owns a business and a resident of the community and was comprised of: Coun. Britt Chalmers, Samantha Hackett and Brooke Wood
Attiana said the group looked at the salaries of councils in other communities with populations up to 24,000 residents.
“We went quite a bit larger than our population, about 10 times, and that’s because we do have much larger budgets than municipalities our size, being a resort municipality, and some of the challenges that we face with our infrastructure,” she said.
She added that number was then pared back to 10,000 when looking at tax base comparisons.
“While we are a community of 2,500 that operates like a much larger municipality, we still have a limited tax base, so we felt that was an appropriate comparison,” she said.
She added the living wage calculation was heavily considered and agreed upon.
“The reason for that is the group was really looking to establish a rationale for the rate that was paid to council. Rather than using the rationale that we would compare to municipalities that were a similar size and had similar budgets and services that the district of Tofino has,” she said.
“Being a member of council should be accessible to all residents and we want to be inclusive and have a diverse council. The group tried to balance the reality of a small tax base with the responsibility of a larger municipality.”
She said that after the living wage was agreed upon, the group then put their heads together to determine a reasonable amount of hours councillors and the mayor should be expected to work each week, arriving at 18 hours for councillors and 40 hours for the mayor.
She said that while council’s current remuneration placed it among the top three of community’s with 3,999 residents or less, it is in line with communities of 4,000 to 7,500 residents, “which is certainly in the realm which we operate in terms of the size of our budget.”
Coun. Tom Stere said remuneration conversations are among “the more difficult decisions that a sitting council has to make,” noting he was running for re-election on Oct. 15.
“I will support the recommendation because it’s based on an independent group that has put a lot of time and effort into this,” he said. “This conversation comes up a lot, as the complexities of council, and as the ability to attract the type of competencies that people expect on councils, at the rate of remuneration is not enticing to anybody outside of a retirement situation or with a personal business.”
Coun. Duncan McMaster, who also ran for re-election, was the only councillor opposed to the pay increase.
“We don’t do a lot in the summer when we go down to (one) meeting a month. I question whether anyone around this table works 18 hours a week during those times we only have one meeting a month. Also, I’m tired of just giving more money to the tax man,” McMaster said.
Coun. Britt Chalmers, who did not run for re-election and was on the remuneration advisory committee, responded that each councillor’s hours will vary.
“We do understand that council can be as much as what an individual councillor puts into it and it isn’t up to the staff to hold anybody accountable,” she said.
“It will definitely not be perfect and definitely throughout different councils there will be councillors that maybe never put more than five hours into it and there will be councillors that I know for a fact put 25-plus hours into it. We really just tried to create some sort of metric that we could explain and have a rationale for other than what our neighbours are doing.”
Mayor Dan Law, who was acclaimed to another term, supported the increase.
“I think everybody here has worked a lot. I know that the effort put in to keep this town going at such a high functioning level is incredibly stressful, it’s a heavy duty job,” he said.
Coun. Al Anderson noted salaries are going up in other sectors and wondered whether a cost of living wage was enough to attract and retain solid candidates.
“It’s pretty difficult to find employees as an employer if you only pay the living wage. The wage inflation, I think, is something that we’re experiencing throughout the country,” he said. “In any situation where the labour market is tight and it’s hard to find employees as we’re facing everywhere, it’s a driver for wage inflation.”
Attiana responded that the advisory group gave consideration to paying more than the living wage, but determined that would be too tough a strain on taxpayers with the current set up of six councillors and a mayor.
“There’s probably not much more flexibility to consider more than the living wage at this point with six councillors and a mayor without having a significant tax increase,” she said.
After being the only vote opposed at Sept. 27’s meeting, McMaster recused himself from Oct. 11’s vote explaining that he did not think he should be voting on something that could potentially benefit him financially.
The remuneration bylaw is expected to be on the new council’s agenda at their first meeting on Nov. 8.