Two years ago, Prince George City council decided it should look at what other councils were being paid.
At $92,700, their mayor was well compensated, but councillors were making less than Kamloops. On top of their salaries, Kamloops councillors were getting $75 a month for their cellphone bills, up to $5,000-plus a year for expenses, and an overseas trip every three years.
The Kamloops mayor also had a car allowance, free parking and an optional benefits package.
So, Prince George councillors boosted their salaries by $7,000 to more than $30,000, roughly a 30 percent raise.
And so it goes, the game of catch-up and get-ahead. Candidates tell voters they run for office so they can give back to the community. Pretty soon, they want to treat it as a well-paid job.
Coun. Nancy Bepple thinks Kamloops council members aren't getting paid enough and wants another study done of other cities. She bases her complaint on two false premises - that workload has increased, and that there's been no review since 2001. Bepple claims she makes minimum wage for her council work. The last time there was talk of the impoverished lifestyle of City councillors, I calculated they were making about $38 an hour. Of course, some councillors work harder than others, but it's not uncommon for people to think they're putting in more hours than they are.
In addition to their $24,800 annual salary ($74,400 for the mayor), most of the council members get another $12,000 for attending Thompson-Nicola Regional District meetings. All of it is one-third tax free, a perk that's intended as recognition of the little extras they have to pay for in doing their civic duty.
In 2002, the council of which I was part decided to resolve the issue for all time by fixing a forever rate and providing an annual cost-of-living allowance to keep up with inflation. The idea was that annual reviews would never be needed again.
The problem isn't how much Kamloops council is paid, but how much other councils are paid. Other councils are more than keeping up, creating a disparity. Everybody, in any line of work, likes to be paid at least as much as others who do the same thing.
The study Bepple has asked for would find that mayors and councils in Kelowna, Prince George, Coquitlam, and Abbotsford get paid more than they do here. There will be adequate justification, on paper, for ditching the limits established 11 years ago and giving themselves raises. To his credit, Mayor Peter Milobar has resisted past attempts to throw more money at council salaries, but Bepple will likely get support from some colleagues including Coun. Tina Lange, who's contended for years she's underpaid.
People are supposed to go into civic politics to serve. It's not just another job. This council is paid fairly and should stop worrying about whether somebody next door is getting more.
When Port Coquitlam mayor and councillors gave themselves 40- and 27-per-cent pay increases respectively, the B.C. Taxpayers Federation said it should be put to a referendum at the next civic election.
If Kamloops council gets serious about being generous with itself, maybe the taxpayers should have a say.
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