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Comment: Victoria’s city council is still underpaid

Higher pay and full-time work are the only ways local councillors can truly focus on citizen demands.
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Victoria City Hall on Douglas Street, as seen from a double-decker B.C. Transit bus. TIMES COLONIST

A commentary by a Victoria resident with an interest in local governance and government.

Make no mistake, Victoria’s council is still underpaid despite the recent salary increase. Not only are councillors underpaid, but — as the reaction to the pay increase illustrates — being a public figure is a thankless job where the rewards are ridicule and scorn.

If a Victoria councillor is not putting in full-time hours, they are not doing their job. The demands put upon council are essentially endless.

To serve the people, interact with the public, and address never-ending demands, elected officials should be able to go all-in on their work without distractions and without the need to carry a second job.

Higher pay and full-time work are the only ways local councillors can truly focus on citizen demands. Unless we as a society are happy being governed by multi-millionaires who do not need a reasonable paycheque, we have to suck it up and pay elected officials more — much more.

Even with the recent salary increase, the compensation is a joke compared to the pay one can attain in managerial and executive roles within the private sector or the upper ranks of the provincial ministries.

If we want to attract the best and brightest to local government, and benefit over time from their ideas, energy, and leadership, we need to up their pay. Until we make public office a competitive career option, many of the most competent people out there will never give public service a second (or even a first) thought.

The current remuneration process is flawed. Not only is it reviewed inconsistently — i.e., the last review was in 2008 — but it is awkward for someone to set their own salary.

To that end, I hope a regular schedule and better process can be established. A salary set by an independent task force, city staff, or a citizen’s assembly, are all options.

The provincial government could also step in and create a matrix outlining council and mayoral pay based on a variety of quantifiable and universally applicable metrics such as a municipality’s population, population density, GDP, etc.

By reviewing councillor pay more regularly, and by taking the politicians out of the process, we would achieve a more consistent and equitable outcome. It would also take out a lot of the emotional reactions dominating the political discourse on this topic.

For those out there who are worried this is awful for taxpayers, fear not. It is important to note that the salary bump will take a councillor’s pay from $52,420 to $65,525.

When multiplied by eight, this equals $104,840 per year. The city budget in 2023 was in the hundreds of millions.

This means the pay increase will represent a fraction of a percent versus the total spend. Put in this context, arguments claiming this is a waste of taxpayer funds entirely misses the point.

Our local government could, and should, do more with less. I would love to see my taxes go down instead of up, but I am under no illusion that this pay increase will make one iota of difference to the municipality’s budget or my tax bill.

To make a long story short, council is still underpaid, and any councillor worth their salt should be putting in full-time hours. If they are not doing this, they are not genuinely engaged and representing their constituents.

Council’s paycheque is truly laughable compared to salaries out there in the private sector and among provincial ministries.

If we want the best and brightest, we need to accept higher compensation is a part of the solution.

Pay them, and they will come.

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