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Pricey salaries of city staff in B.C. should ‘insult’ taxpayers: watchdog

Michael Mui and Ben Bulmer, 24 hours



Salaries and benefits that put some of the Lower Mainland’s top decision makers among the 1% of earners in Canada is a clear “disconnect” from those who set the rates to those having to pay them, according to a taxpayer watchdog.

Integrity BC executive director Dermod Travis said paying decision-makers in excess of $230,000 annually is an “insult” to taxpayers.

“It’s easy for them to say, ‘OK, I can pay $5 a month more — it’s not tough for me and it’s not going to be tough for anyone else.’”

According to 2012 financial statements, the latest available, the three Metro Vancouver cities with the highest number of staff in the 1% are Vancouver (10), Richmond (8) and Surrey (4).

The majority of other Lower Mainland cities have far fewer, typically just one — usually the chief administrative officer or city manager — or none.

One of Travis’ concerns is how salaries are typically determined by shopping around to determine what similar jurisdictions pay.

“You end up creating almost a ‘mini NHL’ in the Lower Mainland,” he said. “It’s created this spiraling salary escalation which services only the people getting the salaries.”

Richmond spokesman Ted Townsend said the number of highly paid staff in the Island City — which is disproportionate with other cities in terms of population — is being reduced from the increased levels during the 2010 Olympics.

In comparison, Burnaby, a more populous city than Richmond, has one person in the 1%, despite having a bigger overall salary budget.

Townsend said staff is hired on “scope of work, number of personnel, size of the budget, and responsibility each position has.”

All senior positions, which included six general managers, a deputy CAO and a CAO, have professional designations, post-secondary education or years of managerial experience, he said.

Townsend added the deputy CAO’s position was eliminated and won’t be replaced. Another position is to be axed after that person retires.

According to the City of Vancouver, salaries are “benchmarked using market survey information and data” collected annually in the region.

“Each year, the pay scale is reviewed against market movements and inflation and when appropriate, a recommendation for adjustments is made,” the city said in a statement.

Vancouver said there was a payroll administrative change in 2012, meaning staff could no longer add to accumulated vacation pay over years. Three staff withdrew vacation pay and gratuity credits for amounts ranging from $56,127 to $98,439. This cleared two people, a city general manager and a deputy human resources manager, from the 1% bracket.

Richmond, to a lesser extent, was also affected by vacation payouts, with one employee cashing out about $25,000.




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