The District of Kitimat council got into a debate at the August 4 meeting, after they were divided on a council remuneration amendment bylaw. The bylaw was eventually passed, with Councillors Mario Feldhoff and Rob Goffinet opposed. (Gerry Leibel photo)

Kitimat Council increasing mayor, councillor compensation after survey says they are “much lower than the B.C. average”

The pay raise was initially scheduled for April, but was put on hold for COVID-19 priorities.

A new bylaw was passed at the August 4 District of Kitimat Council meeting to increase mayor and councillor financial compensation, after it was discovered that Kitimat mayor and councillor remuneration rates are lower than the average for councils of towns of comparable sizes in the province.

Back in March, Council heard a presentation by Maurice Lamb of Lamb & Associates, an independent consultant they had hired regarding Council remuneration, to see how their compensation compared to other councils of similar-sized towns around B.C.

Lamb conducted a survey of Council remuneration numbers in comparably-sized towns around B.C., then presented these numbers, as well as his recommendations, to the Kitimat Council at a meeting on March 2.

“Results indicate that remuneration figures for Kitimat mayor and councillors are much lower than the B.C. average,” Lamb’s statement read. “The mayor in Kitimat is paid the second lowest in a survey in British Columbia. The Kitimat councillors are paid the lowest in the survey.”

READ MORE: Top District of Kitimat salary earners released in annual financial report

As of 2019, Kitimat follows both Prince Rupert and Terrace in council compensation amounts, with the Prince Rupert mayor and councillors making $75,000 and $18,750, respectively, and Terrace mayor and councillors making $42,098 and $17,098, respectively.

Lamb recommended that Council increase remuneration values to around the average for all B.C. councils. For the mayor, that would be around $45,000, and around $20,000 for councillors.

Council decided to follow Lamb’s recommendations, increasing both mayor and councillor remuneration over a two-year period. This meant that, initially, Council was supposed to receive half the increase in April 2020 and half in January 2021. However, with the passing of the bylaw being held off until recently, due to prioritization of COVID-19 issues, Council will instead receive the first half in September 2020, and will receive the second half of the increase in January 2021. This way, it will still occur over a two year period, just in a ‘compressed scheduled,’ District of Kitimat CAO, Warren Waycheshen, said.

As of January 2021, the mayor’s remuneration will increase to $45,100 and the councillors’ to $25,050, an increase of just under $10,000 for the mayor and just over $10,000 for the councillors. These increases will put the councillors’ remuneration above both Terrace and Prince Rupert, and will put the mayor’s between the two.

READ MORE: How the District of Kitimat’s payroll compares to other towns

Mayor Phil Germuth was a supporter of this, as he said wanted to bridge the gap between mayor and councillor remuneration.

“I believe that the difference between mayor and council is too much. And, you know, because yes, I do have some extra responsibilities and meetings that they might not have, but they have meetings that I don’t go to, either,” Germuth said. “That was one of the most important things for me, was to get them up quite a bit more because there is an incredible amount of time commitment from Councillors too, not just the mayor.”

They voted on the matter initially in March, but decided to hold off doing the readings of the bylaw until August 4, due to COVID-19 priorities.

At the August 4 meeting, the mayor and most of the councillors were in favour of the bylaw increasing remuneration over the two-year period.

“If you are treating being a Councillor as a volunteer position, now that I’m in it and I know that it’s an average of 20 hours a week, which is not what I knew going into it — I thought it was, you know, maybe more like 10 or 12 on average — I don’t think there are many people in our community that can make a commitment to volunteer, you know, 15 or 20 hours a week for a four-year period,” Councillor Lani Gibson said. “A lot of people don’t see the work we do behind the scenes, you know, that our closed meetings are often as long as our open meetings.”

“We come aboard doing this because we want to. We love our job, we enjoy it, we want to represent the public in our community, we love our community,” Councillor Terry Marleau said. “But the bottom line is, is this this not a volunteer thing here right now. This has really become a job.”

However, Councillor Rob Goffinet and Councillor Mario Feldhoff were not in favour of the bylaw, as they felt it was not the right time, nor had the public had enough of a chance to comment due to COVID-19 distractions.

“People were preoccupied, they were not paying attention to a lot of business, and rightfully so,” Goffinet said. “I don’t think we’ve got very much feedback [on this bylaw] in front of us.”

“A significant portion of what we do is in service to the community and we shouldn’t look at it as a job,” Feldhoff said, “but at the same time, the community really is involved here in all kinds of different things and we should be leading by example. And what we’re proposing to do is a very, very, very significant change in our remuneration.”

Feldhoff and Goffinet wished to delay the readings again, to allow the public more time to access the information and share their thoughts on the potential bylaw. However, Gibson argued that the bylaw reflects what they had already previously discussed and it would only be more expensive to delay the process.

“This bylaw actually reflects the motion that we already debated and passed,” Gibson said. “I think it’s far more efficient to just let the public know our full intent. Our full intent here is that we accept the recommendations of the independent consultant to say, in his words, that we are very underpaid.”

Marleau added that the motion was also initially passed at the beginning of March, at least a couple of weeks before COVID-19 fears and restrictions in Canada and North America had truly set in.

Council remuneration usually follows the annual increase and decrease in the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which has ranged from anywhere between 0.0 per cent and 3.30 per cent in the past almost two decades.

However, in 2019 it was an increase of 12 per cent, with the CPI at 2.0 per cent and an extra 10 per cent added to offset the removal of the tax exemption that year. Before 2019, one-third of each Council member’s remuneration wasn’t subject to income tax and that was changed in 2019. The 10 per cent increase was added to make up for the wages lost due to this income tax change.

Germuth said most comparable B.C. Councils increase their remuneration in small increments over time and have maybe done a large increase in the past, but the Kitimat Council hasn’t done a large increase and thereby hasn’t been able to keep or catch up to the other councils’ remuneration values.

“That’s why you’re seeing such a big increase at once, to try to get back up to at least an average, [it’s] because we never did it before,” Germuth said.

Germuth also said that the Kitimat Council often has more responsibilities than other Northern B.C. councils due to the large amount of economic and industrial activity that takes place in and around the town.

“Having gotten to know most of the Northern B.C. Councils over these past years, I can honestly say that I don’t know of any who have as many meetings as we do or as lengthy meetings as we have,” Germuth said. “And that’s due to the economic activity in Kitimat and it’s been this way for at least six years.”

The remuneration amendment bylaw did go through, with all voting in favour, save for Councillors Feldhoff and Goffinet. The bylaw will come into effect on Sept. 1, 2020.

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