Tofino’s recently elected council will be its most expensive yet after unanimously approving a wage increase during the first meeting of their term.
Council officially adopted new salary increases on Nov. 8, upping the mayor’s wage from $31,801 to $43,992 and each councillor’s wage from $15,900 to $19,796.
Those figures stem from a Council Remuneration Advisory Group recommendation to pay a living wage ($21.15 an hour) based on a 40-hour workweek for the mayor and 18 hours per week for councillors.
The advisory group’s report was first presented to council by district CAO Nyla Attiana during Sept. 27’s regular meeting, where it was endorsed with Coun. Duncan McMaster the only vote in opposition.
Council then approved giving three readings to the new remuneration bylaw on Oct. 11 where McMaster recused himself citing a conflict of interest on voting for his own wage increase.
Tofino elected a new council on Oct. 15 and the vote to officially adopt the new wages was unanimous on Nov. 8.
“I voted in favour because it had already been endorsed for three readings by council, so it was a case of just accepting it. It’s a council decision. I said in my comments (on Sept. 27) about how I felt council should be setting an example of fiscal restraint,” McMaster told the Westerly News
“When I voted against it, I wasn’t planning on standing for the election, once I put my nomination forms in, that’s when I declared a conflict because I was confident with seven (candidates) going for six positions, I had a good chance of getting re-elected.”
The advisory group had also suggested whittling Tofino’s council down from its current one mayor and six councillor format to four councillors and McMaster hopes that conversation does not lead to another wage increase.
“Four is good because I think things can get decided faster, but then again Tofino is so diverse, people are always worried about not having that diverse opinion,” he said, expressing concern that decreasing the number of councillors could be used as a reason to further increase the remuneration.
“I think some people look at it as, if we go down to four, that would allow us to increase council and mayor’s wages. I would view it as keeping (wages) the same and saving some money for the taxpayer rather than increasing the wages.”
Mayor Dan Law said the advisory group is a ‘best practice’ outlined by the Union of BC Municipalities and he believes Tofino’s team was “reasonable” and used “good logical arguments” in their presentation to council.
“Mayor and council don’t get paid a lot, but historically if you go back decades, the role of mayor and council was far more limited than it is now and I think all municipalities across BC realize that the job has changed. It’s become a lot bigger, certainly a lot more involved. Mayors and councillors are working longer hours, they have to have a lot more knowledge and they’re covering far more services and aspects of the community than ever before,” he said. “The scope of the job, what we’re expected to deal with, to know about and make decisions about and services even that municipalities deliver to residents are becoming certainly more complicated and more diverse. The job has changed and remuneration should change as well.”
He cited Tofino’s wastewater treatment plant as an example of complicated infrastructure projects councils are facing.
“At one point not too long ago municipalities could treat or not treat their sewage and if they chose to treat their sewage it was totally feasible to have a wastewater treatment system that could maybe be a couple million dollars or even less, but we see now with the clean water act that municipalities are required to treat sewage to a far more thorough and environmentally responsible way,” he said.
“That costs a lot. It’s not only the cost of the design and building and infrastructure, it costs to manage the system once it’s built and Tofino will see those costs. We’re already seeing the length of time it took to get our wastewater treatment plant designed and funded and then to begin preparation and construction. Once it’s running it’s going to be that much more complicated to run and expensive to run and this is all, of course, ultimately the responsibility of a small municipal council.”
He also cited examples around Tofino’s daycare facility and increased social amenities the district is pursuing.
“There’s also another aspect of municipal councils that’s growing and that is councils are in some way responsible for lobbying both the provincial and federal government for local services and other amenities that our communities need. We’re also working ever more closely with First Nations. All of these things take time. All of these things take training and knowledge and a level of responsibility that just really wasn’t there in decades past,” he said.
He believes taxpayers will be “supportive” of the wage increases.
“It’s my experience that the community members understand that the role of mayor and council is a significant undertaking and that really the remuneration even increased doesn’t really cover all of the work that actually goes into it,” he said. “Certainly people I’ve talked to have not expressed any objection to seeing mayor and council remuneration increased.”
Law added that he looks forward to conversations around whether to reduce Tofino’s six councillor positions to four.
“There’s always a give and take. Smaller councils can at times move quicker in decision making in a meeting so the meetings can be a bit shorter. But, there is of course the trade off that with fewer people on council there’s always the risk that there’s a more narrow representation,” he said. “That is going to be a very interesting conversation for this council to have and I look forward to it.”
READ MORE: Tofino council moves towards salary increase
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