Revelstoke city council has defended their in camera decision to raise pay rates and remuneration for mayor and council, arguing it was overdue, in line with municipalities of similar size and targeted to take effect after the next election.
In a rare moment of unity with other councillors on money matters, even budget hard-liner Coun. Tony Scarcella said he approved of the raise. “I feel that November is coming and we might attract more people,” he said.
Coun. Steve Bender said opposition to political pay raises were predictable and that council shouldn’t “rise to the bait” of those critical of the decision.
Coun. Peter Frew said when he was first elected in 1993, councillors were paid $8,000 a year, and there have been only two raises since then. Frew noted the raise “may not be of any benefit to the individuals at this table,” because it takes effect after the Nov. 19 election. In response to questions from the Times Review following the meeting, Frew said the optics of the decision were problematic. “Making the decision in the open session of the council meeting would have had benefits that being the press would have had the opportunity to ask questions,” he wrote. He added he felt that an Aug. 24 headline in the Revelstoke Times Review was unfair to councillors, saying the raise was scheduled to take effect after the election.
Coun. Antoinette Halberstadt referenced a Revelstoke Times Review editorial calling for a raise to support diversity on council. Without adequate compensation, council would be skewed to be “a bunch of old [people], mostly men, mostly married.” Halberstadt said, getting some chuckles from the remainder of those at the table, who are all ‘older’ men.
Halberstadt said being on council had caused her financial hardship due to lost time at work. “I have had to take off way more time than predicted.” she said. “I have suffered financially.” She also underscored that voters had a direct say in who will or will not receive the raise. “Go ahead, don’t elect me.”
Coun. Chris Johnston admitted making the decision behind closed doors was a mistake. “The decision should not have been made in camera,” he wrote in response to questions from the Times Review. “Normally all such issues as pay for staff are held in camera and this was lumped in with other discussions and I think it was oversight. We do make mistakes.”
He estimated councillors made about minimum wage when all of their time was factored in. “The issue of council remuneration is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. Whatever happens, there will be criticism so the inclination is to avoid it for years, in this case eight years,” Johnston said.
He added that if any candidates in the upcoming election wanted to reverse the decision, they were free to campaign on that platform. But he felt the decision would take the burden off the new, incoming council. “If they want to reverse it, they can.”
Council voted to increase the mayor’s salary from $22,000 to $28,000 and city councillors’ from $11,000 to $14,000.
The Times Review requested documentation that led to the decision and we were provided with some of the information.
A report on remuneration for other councils explored the average current salaries for municipalities with populations ranging from 4,000 to 12,000. Revelstoke’s estimated population was listed at 7,230.
The average was $27,689 for mayor and $12,971 for councillors.