Greater Victoria municipalities inconsistent in reviewing elected officials’ salaries

Esquimalt’s Barb Desjardins explains discrepancy between her pay and that of other mayors

Mayor Barb Desjardins, performing official groundbreaking duties at Esquimalt Gorge Park in 2020, says doing regular reviews of salaries for mayor and councils would help municipalities stay current and avoid the need to play catchup. (Courtesy Township of Esquimalt)

Mayor Barb Desjardins, performing official groundbreaking duties at Esquimalt Gorge Park in 2020, says doing regular reviews of salaries for mayor and councils would help municipalities stay current and avoid the need to play catchup. (Courtesy Township of Esquimalt)

Comparing the salaries of mayors around the capital region can be a puzzling exercise for taxpayers.

The mayors of the two largest jurisdictions by population topped the remuneration list, based on most recent figures available, with Saanich’s Fred Haynes at $123,632 (2020 figure) and Victoria’s Lisa Helps totalling $133,794 (2019).

Coming in at No. 3, however, is Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins ($61,589 total, 2019), whose municipality is fifth-largest and within 1,500 residents of Oak Bay, Colwood and Central Saanich. Those mayors make, on average, $25,000 a year less.

Even Stew Young, mayor of the region’s third-largest and fastest growing municipality, Langford, came in about $16,500 less for 2019 at $45,035, although his pay will jump to $75,863 by 2024.

RELATED STORY: Esquimalt votes for pay hike for incoming council

All mayors except Young also sit on the Capital Regional District board. They receive $20,338 a year plus $110 per meeting, with between $3,000 and $6,000 added for chairing other boards or committees. The CRD board chair, currently Saanich Coun. Colin Plant, receives an extra $50,248 a year plus meeting pay.

Most municipalities use some version of the Union of B.C. Municipalities’ 2019 guide for council and board remuneration, which offers advice on external reviews, their frequency, comparisons to similar-sized jurisdictions and effectively communicating pay changes to the public after councils vote on the matter.

But not all local municipalities have entrenched mayor and council salary reviews in their policies as Esquimalt has. Since at least 2008 when she was first elected mayor, Desjardins said the township has undertaken independent reviews in the final year of a council term, with any increases starting the next term.

“There’s a need for consistency, and that is the challenge if you don’t do this on a regular basis,” she said, pointing out that salary reviews are done regularly for staff positions.

“The challenge of falling behind and then doing this kind of work, it’s going to show you are way out of whack. Then you have to justify a significant raise given the challenges of already trying to have people understand how you go about assessing appropriate remuneration.”

Acknowledging the roles of council members have become more complicated – COVID-19 and homelessness, for example, have local governments doing more social service work – Stan Bartlett, past-chair of Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria, said remuneration should be taken out of council hands.

Not having a standardized method of determining mayor and councillor salaries in B.C. doesn’t help with public understanding, he added.

RELATED STORY: Staff recommend major boost to Langford council pay

“The province should take over and a grid system be put in place,” Bartlett said, suggesting a more level playing field would remove a “keeping up” mentality.

“Retain the consumer price index annual increases and that’s it, none of this debate that detracts from the bigger issues.”


 

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Township of Esquimalt