By Korie Marshall

Valemount Council has voted to give itself a raise for 2014. Any future council will have to change the bylaw if they want one.

A new Council Remuneration bylaw with the addition of two per cent on top of 2013 pay rates for mayor and councillors passed fourth and final reading last week at council. There are no provisions for automatic cost-of-living raises in the bylaw.

The raise also puts their pay higher than the budgeted amount for Council remuneration in 2014, according to last year’s five year budget bylaw.

But how it happened is a little confusing.

A new bylaw to legally protect municipal officers, employees and elected officials, acting in good faith in performing their duties, was recommended to the Village last spring. According to the report to Council, the bylaw was drafted for all North-Central Local Governments by Lidstone and Company Law Corporation, and it is called the Indemnification bylaw.

Unfortunately, the Village already had an Indemnification bylaw, which dealt with pay for the mayor and councillors, a slightly different definition of the word “indemnity”.

So in November, two new bylaws were brought to Council to replace the old Council Indemnity bylaw (633) of 2009 – the new Indemnification bylaw as recommended by legal counsel, and a new Council Remuneration bylaw, which deals with pay and benefits for Council members.

The old bylaw regarding pay stated the mayor should receive $16,000 and councillors $7,200 each in 2009, and that rates should increase or decrease each year according to changes in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for BC for the previous year.

The CPI is published by Statistics Canada, and is a common method of determining hikes for Council in other municipalities, as well as federal Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Pension payments. It is a measure of the change in price of a variety of products, and the change in price for all items in BC in 2013 was 0.0 per cent.

So according to the old bylaw, Council would not have received any change in their pay for 2014 – it should have stayed at the same level as 2013, which was $17,318.58 for the mayor and $7,793.82 for councillors. Any future raises would continue in line with the CPI for the preceding year.

The original version of the new bylaw would have seen pay stay at the 2013 level, with no provisions for any type of automatic raise.

But in considering fourth reading on Dec. 10th, Mayor Andru McCracken said “What is missing in this Council Remuneration bylaw that passed third reading last time is a Cost of Living Allowance increase.”

McCracken called the amendment “a significant one” during discussion, and Council voted unanimously to rescind third reading and have staff add two percent to the rates. There was no discussion on why the switch to a Cost of Living Allowance, or why the two per cent was decided on.

According to Council’s 5 year budget last year (for 2013-2017), Council received $41,336 in remuneration, while paid staff (Admin and Public works) received $598,953, a ratio of 6.5 per cent for elected officials to 93.5 per cent to employees.

For 2014, $47,500 was budgeted for Council Indemnity, $500 more than was budgeted for 2013. The new bylaw will mean Council receives $49,463.75, which increases the ratio to 7.4 per cent for Council to 92.6 per cent budgeted for employees in 2014 ($616,000).

Building a comprehensive Human Resource strategy is one of the strategic priorities listed in the Village’s most recent Corporate Strategic Plan. A number of policies have been reviewed and updated recently by Council regarding thing such as vacation, various types of leave and training benefits for employees. But there has been no public discussion of pay for Council members, and no explanation of any rationale for the amounts in either the new or the old bylaw.

When asked about the change to a cost of living allowance, Mayor McCracken initially referred the question to staff, but the change appeared to be a direct response to instruction from Council. According to McCracken, he is the spokesperson for Council to media, but he had not responded to further questions by press time.

Bylaw information available from other communities on-line shows a wide range in amounts mayors and councillors are paid, but often very little explanation about how those values were arrived at. Communities with similar populations to ours, such as Queen Charlotte, Massett and Salmo (all with a population close to 1000) pay mayors between $7,000 and $7,500, and councillors between $3,850 and $4,310. 100 Mile House has nearly twice the population of Valemount, and only pays its mayor $15,000 and councillors $7,500. Lantzville has a population of over 3,600 and pays its mayor less than $15,000, but councillors just over $9,000. Fort St. James, with a population of about 1300 pays its mayor $12,000 and councillors $8,400. Tofino, with a population of about 1,600, pays its mayor $19,708 and councillors $11,410. Golden, population 4,200, pays the mayor $19,620 and councillors $9,810.

Council also raised taxes last year by two per cent (considered an inflation adjustment) plus an additional one percent as recommended by Mayor McCracken, for a total of three per cent. McCracken cited concerns about dipping into reserved surplus in the budget.