The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce believes Victoria council forgets its role.
In an online budget survey available to the public until Nov. 24, the city asks for the public’s approval of a 55 per cent payment increase for councillors, bringing the baseline salary up from $43,000 to $70,100 in order to meet the median income of a city employee.
“The main concern we have at the Chamber is the comparison of city councillor salaries to the employees of the city, which suggests they’re also employees of the city,” said Catherine Holt, CEO of the Chamber. “They’re absolutely not. They are elected to be representatives to the city and to provide oversight with regards to what city staff are doing to ensure that the city is meeting the needs of the citizens.”
Holt said compared to similar-sized municipalities, such as North Vancouver, Victoria councillors already earn more for their time.
“In most kinds of government roles you’re not being compensated as if it’s employment,” Holt said. “You’re getting a notional amount to cover that fact that you’re dedicating your time to public service. It’s not supposed to be a full-time job.”
Coun. Ben Isitt told Black Press Media that he works for the city an average of 40-50 hours per week.
“It’s impossible to have other ordinary outside employment,” Isitt said. “We have daytime meetings, emails, participate in local events, and deal with communications arising.”
Holt said this is entirely the result of the choices of council members, since many other municipalities manage to keep their hours down.
“If they are spending way, way, way too much time in meetings and feel like it’s becoming full time they can change that,” she said. “It would be more realistic for them to create meeting formats where they don’t spend many, many hours on their role. They should be looking at recommendations from city staff, asking pertinent questions and making decisions, not re-investigating, re-discussing and debating everything.”
Another problem Holt, said, is that if one of the Capital Region municipalities sees a significant raise increase for councillors, all thirteen will soon want similar benefits.
In that case, she said, it would be easier and more cost effective to simply amalgamate and do one pay raise instead.
The budget survey where the question of a councillor salary raise is addressed is available at victoria.ca until Nov. 24.