Malcolm Brodie, chair of Metro Vancouver's Finance Committee: "We're cheap compared to Translink"
CityCaucus.com occasionally likes to raise a stink about how cities spend our tax dollars, but we're careful not to beat that drum too often. When a story like the one reported by Jeff Nagel today shows up in our Google Alerts, frankly, it's hard to ignore.
It's a complicated matter, and we had to re-read Nagel's story several times to fully understand what's happened. The short version is this – thanks to a formula designed by Metro Vancouver, directors fees increased by 25% last spring. The region's taxpayers will pay $1.8 million in 2010 – an increase of $417,000 from 2008 – in board and committee remuneration to directors, according to the regional district's budget.
The "formula" was set in place so that directors would not be voting on their own renumeration. Directors fees were increased $253 to $316 per meeting (and double that for meetings that exceed four hours). Even though the pay increases have been in place for months, Metro's Finance Committee only decided to review the matter on November 12th.
The chair of that committee is Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, who sounded like he shrugged off concerns about the increase with his statements to Nagel:
"I think the amounts being paid to Metro Vancouver board members is reasonable. Look to TransLink, look to some of these other groups. If anything our remuneration is low compared to other groups and bodies."
This insane game of catch-up is played by every politician who tries to justify the compensation of public boards like Translink. And it completely ignores the resentment the high fees paid to those board members has stirred. But what is even more amazing in the case of Metro Vancouver's recent increase, is that they would abide by it during an economic slump.
Earlier I described the pay raise story as complicated. Here's an explanation of how the raises were calculated:
The bylaw formula pegs the meeting fees, as well as the salaries for the chair and vice-chair, to the median (mid-point) salary for all the mayors of the region.
Because several cities raised their mayors' pay between 2008 and 2009, the calculated median rose, automatically driving up the directors' pay.
Some local cities also tie their mayors' salaries to the regional median, so any increase at any one local city has the effect of ratcheting up others, and bringing up board pay levels as well.
To her credit, Metro board chair Lois Jackson was the one who asked the finance committee to review the formula. Jackson was unable to attend the meeting because she was on a taxpayer-funded junket to China. However, Jackson would be disappointed as the entire committee did not question the increase, and put off any review of the formula until late 2010.
North Vancouver City Coun. Craig Keating said Metro meeting fees, even with the increase, are "well below" other jurisdictions.
"If those fees for directors are out of whack, it's on the low side," Keating said.
Burnaby Coun. Colleen Jordan said she had no concerns and called the rates fair.
Langley Township Mayor Rick Green, who had expressed concerns about the increase in advance of the meeting, raised no objections at the table.
The ubiquitous Maureen Bader from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation gave a very sharp observation to Nagel. Bader says that the steep increases will make it harder for Metro and local cities to negotiate with unions leading up to their next collective agreement, which for most of the region is in 2012. She's nailed the problem exactly, the cavalier response our elected officials take to these large incremental increases is going to result in even higher increases in compensation.
Metro Vancouver is predicted to increase taxes by FIFTY PERCENT in the next five years! The increases are simply unsustainable.
I'd really like to credit Jeff Nagel for his continuing yeoman's work on helping the public to understand what the heck Metro Vancouver is, and does, because most of us see it as a black hole for tax dollars and nothing much else. Here is more of Jeff's story explaining how Metro Vancouver directors are paid significantly higher than what neighbouring regional districts pay their politicians:
Metro board chair Lois Jackson is paid a flat $63,220 for her regional district work – more than double what her counterparts receive at the Fraser Valley Regional District ($26,437), Capital Regional District ($19,520) or Cowichan Valley Regional District ($30,336).
Those regional districts also pay their directors flat annual stipends – $6,490 for an FVRD director and $8,508 for a Capital Regional District director.
In Metro Vancouver, where payment is by meeting fees, not a flat stipend, a dozen directors collected $15,000 or more for attending Metro meetings in 2008 – before the 25 per cent fee increase took effect.
They include Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie ($19,904), Vancouver Coun. David Cadman ($30,577), Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan ($20,984), Area A director Gary Gibson ($15,189), Surrey Coun. Marvin Hunt ($22,248), ex-Vancouver Coun. Peter Ladner ($24,499), Pitt Meadows Mayor Don MacLean ($18,095), Langley City Coun. Gayle Martin ($30,990), Vancouver Coun. Tim Stevenson ($17,569), Richmond Coun. Harold Steves ($15,675), Port Moody Mayor Joe Trasolini ($18,355), District of North Vancouver Mayor Richard Walton ($17,286) and New Westminster Mayor Wayne Wright ($16,686).
All of the fees are over and above what cities pay their mayors and councillors. It's pretty clear that several elected officials are using the additional fees collected from Metro Vancouver to round up pitiful council salaries.
How on earth can Metro Vancouver in good conscience raise their own pay by 25% when cities are strapped for cash, and tax increases are at the breaking point? Hopefully this story gets some legs and the public begins to take a closer look at the true costs of the Metro Vancouver government body.