Robert’s column

Robert’s column

Robert Barron column: Cowichan’s councils shouldn’t have to set their own pay

One of the topics that seems to cause the most consternation

Municipal councils should not have to determine their own salaries.

I’ve covered local government council meetings on the Island for decades now, and one of the topics that seems to cause the most consternation amongst council members at these gatherings in all the municipalities is their responsibility to determine their own remuneration.

North Cowichan’s council had a discussion over the issue at the committee of the whole meeting on Dec. 6 after the municipality’s last council decided in 2018 that the next review of council’s remuneration be conducted prior to the next municipal election, which will be held this coming October.

But, as I expected, council members were hesitant to move forward with a review at this time, largely because if the review determined that council members should get a raise, it likely wouldn’t be perceived well by the voting public in North Cowichan with just months to go before many or all of them will be running for re-election.

It was pointed out by a number of councillors that the expected tax increase next year could be as high as eight per cent, and with many voters still struggling with their finances as the COVID-19 pandemic continues unabated, giving themselves a raise might be seen as somewhat callous and could cost them a lot of votes.

They’re not wrong to come to that conclusion because anytime the topic came up over the years and I wrote about it, there’s always a lot of feedback calling council members “pigs at the trough” and much worse for even considering giving themselves a raise.

So council decided to kick the can down the road and it’s expected to be revisited early in the new year.

I should point out here that the mayor’s salary in North Cowichan is currently $77,854 a year, while councillors make $28,025, which is really not a lot of money compared to all the work they do.

I’ve heard it said that being a council member is really only a part-time job, but I don’t think many people appreciate how time consuming and arduous these roles have become.

It’s not uncommon for the agenda for regular council meetings, which usually go on for many hours, to be more than 600 pages of dry staff reports on numerous projects and issues, schematics, diagrams, letters to council and much more.

I typically pay attention only to the reports that I think are of public interest and don’t spend much time reading about people looking for permission to add rooms to their dwellings, and other such applications to the municipality, unless it’s a contentious issue in the neighbourhood.

But council members have to read each and every report for council meetings, plus the agendas for the committee of the whole and other meetings which are sometimes as long as the ones for the regular council meetings, and be prepared to speak intelligently about them at the table in long meetings.

They are also required to attend events in the community, which often take place in the evenings and on weekends, and be prepared to take calls from, and deal with, residents 24/7.

Council members typically have to work at least 40 hours a week, and some of them work much more than that, and the salaries they are now receiving don’t match up with the increasing demands the job requires.

I’ve heard it suggested that the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, or some other provincial organization, be given the task to determine the remuneration for council members in B.C.’s many municipalities and take it out of the uncomfortable hands of councils, but you can be sure that many would still see some sort of skulduggery even with that.

I think the best solution, and one that was brought up at the COW meeting, is to form a committee of citizens in North Cowichan and have it be responsible for determining council’s remuneration.

That would take the pressure off council members to make those decisions, and voters will feel they have a say in the process.

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