North Cowichan’s council has deferred a discussion about conducting a review of their compensation to another day.
At a meeting of the municipality’s committee of the whole on Dec. 7, members considered a motion from the last council in 2018 that the next review of council’s remuneration be conducted prior to the next municipal election in 2022.
But after a debate on the issue, council members at the COW meeting decided to make no decision at this time, and the issue will be brought back to a future COW meeting early in 2022.
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Currently, the mayor’s remuneration in North Cowichan is $77,854 a year, while councillors make $28,025.
Coun. Rob Douglas said North Cowichan and its residents are facing challenging times right now, and that it’s possible that the municipality could face a tax hike next year of between five and eight per cent, which is considerably more than in recent years.
“If we go to a review [of council’s remuneration], the likely outcome will be some recommendation to bring our salaries up beyond the consumer price index increase,” he said.
“From my perspective, it would be very challenging to increase property taxes beyond the increases of recent years and give ourselves a raise at the same time.”
Coun. Kate Marsh said all that is being recommended for now is for a review to be conducted, and then council would get to decide on its recommendations.
She said it would be a good idea to find out if the growth of council’s responsibilities matches the requirements of the job.
“Our work loads have increased incredibly over my nine years on council, and this report would be worth it if we can attract people to run in our municipal elections who won’t go in the hole to do it,” she said.
“That’s why we should get this report and then decide. I wouldn’t be in favour of increasing our compensation for this term; it would be for the next council.”
Coun. Tek Manhas said he agrees with Douglas in that he feels the CPI increase for council members is adequate.
He said that with businesses and residents struggling financially, it’s not a good time for council members to give themselves raises while having to significantly increase property taxes.
“Residents are overwhelmed with all the spending we’re doing, particularly with the shutdown of forestry [in the municipal forest reserve] which is costing us $1 million a year,” Manhas said.
“[As for attracting council candidates], I don’t see any shortages of people running for council. The last time, 15 ran for council and three for mayor.”
Mayor Al Siebring said he’s also hesitant to move forward with the report at this time considering the municipality’s budget realities, the likelihood of a big tax increase next year, and the ongoing pandemic.
“But [the City of] Duncan kicked this football down the field for 10 to 15 years and fell far behind other jurisdictions, and then had to consider a 15 per cent to 18 per cent pay increase just to get back in line with other municipalities,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s wise for us to kick this down the field. Down the line, this would become a problem for a future council.”
Coun. Debra Toporowski suggested that the decision on having a report written on the issue should be made by the new council after the next election.
She said the timing is not right with no end to the pandemic in sight and with a lot of residents suffering financially.
“[A seat on council] is not a glamorous thing to run for and it is harder to get young people to be candidates,” Toporowski said.
“But does that mean that council members should be paid more? I’m not saying they shouldn’t, but this is just not the right time.”