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Would you move to the Cowichan Valley for $100,000 a year?

Blaise Salmon / The Citizen
May 28, 2014 12:00 AM

Shawnigan Lake - Here's the deal: a salary of $100,000 a year, a secure government job with full benefits, and a gold-plated pension plan. One imagines there would be no shortage of good applicants for such a plum job.

Unfortunately, the elected board of the Cowichan Valley Regional District apparently thinks $100,000 is not nearly enough.

Ten years ago, the head of the CVRD, Frank Raimondo, was paid $110,000 at the top of his scale. By 2013, the top man, Warren Jones, was being paid over $200,000.

How did the top salary at the CVRD increase by almost 100 per cent, while inflation over the 10-year period was less than 20 per cent? The rapid rise in pay at the CVRD isn't limited to the top position.

The average increase for top CVRD management positions was 76 per cent for the 10 years, according to the publicly available Statements of Financial Information on the CVRD website. (SOFI statements do not include employer-paid pension contributions, so these remuneration figures actually understate the full cost to citizens.) At a recent meeting of the CVRD compensation committee, directors heard a presentation from a "human resources" consultant, focusing particularly on what other regional districts pay. The elected directors, who have responsibility for setting CVRD salaries, played right into the consultant's hands. They worried aloud about which regional district was the most valid "comparable".

Not one director asked whether inflation should be a factor in wage increases. Not one asked how to factor in the incomes of taxpayers in the region.

If they had, they might have learned that local taxpayers, who must foot the bill for the big salaries, showed average income increases even lower than inflation over the past 10 years. Local citizens should demand that our elected directors revise their approach to hiring senior staff. The current approach has led to the rapid escalation of top salaries in local government all across the country.

Locally, this approach led to the hiring of CVRD head Warren Jones from a municipality on the Mainland in 2008. That didn't work out so well. After a few years of rapidly increasing pay, Mr. Jones was let go earlier this year, though the CVRD won't give details. What we do know is that he was given a lavish $350,000 publicly-funded severance package.

Now, the CVRD board will again hire a new head for the organization. Inexplicably, the directors appear to be again focused on the conventional approach, with its inevitable salary escalation as regions leapfrog each other to stay with the pack.

Meanwhile, human resources consultants, who are typically paid a percentage of the salaries of executives they find, laugh all the way to the bank.

Wages and benefits are the single biggest cost in the CVRD budget. Every annual increase is built into the budget, becoming an ever-escalating baseline for further increases the next year. Top salaries are the most important, as they drive salary levels of staff down the line. From a taxpayer perspective, salaries matter.

One solution could be to limit total future increases to the rate of inflation. Not only across-theboard increases, but increases for any reason.

Salaries and benefits are the biggest single item in the CVRD budget and the biggest driver of tax increases. Directors have total control over this item. Challenging the status quo will take courage. It will mean directors going against staff recommendations.

It will mean directors making decisions without staff in the room, which they rarely do.

However if CVRD directors ultimately decide to take effective action, they will look better to the electorate in November. And they might even have a case that their own modest salaries - typically $16,000 to $24,000 - could legitimately be increased.

Blaise Salmon
Shawnigan Lake

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