Public sector salaries spiking in BC cities

Post by Jesse Ferreras in


empty wallet
When it comes to public sector salaries, taxpayers are digging deeper into their wallets is pleased to reproduce a story by reporter Jesse Ferreras of Whistler's Pique Newsmagazine with their permission. Jesse's story about the huge increase in public sector pay across the region underlines a crisis in sustainability for public services in Metro Vancouver and beyond. We think our readers will be interested to know about this issue, and thank the folks at Pique for letting us share it.

Payouts to public employees in Whistler grew by millions in the midst of an economic downturn.

Statements of financial information for 2009 indicate that the Resort Municipality of Whistler, along with a number of comparable communities, saw remunerations for their employees rise on the order of millions of dollars since 2007.

pique In Whistler's case, the remunerations, which included salary, overtime and vacation time, totaled $20,278,306.25, up from $19,545,545.83 in 2008 and $17,488,725.37 in 2007. In 2009, remunerations took up approximately 68.5 per cent of projected revenue from property taxes, as the municipality hasn't yet prepared a statement showing tax revenue for 2009. In 2008 it took up 57.5 per cent and in 2007 it took up 55.8 per cent.

The reason for the rising payouts, said an RMOW spokesperson, was that the municipality was honouring a contract with unionized staff and an agreement with non-union staff that allots annual salary increases of three to four per cent. Other factors influencing the remunerations could have included employees acting in higher-rated positions and being paid a percentage of a higher position's earnings.

The number of staff making over $75,000 also grew in the same period. In 2007 there were 47 employees making more than $75,000; that grew to 61 employees in 2008 and 69 employees in 2009.

The spokesperson went on to say that RMOW payouts reflect "parity" with six Metro Vancouver municipalities when it comes to wages and financial benefits such as overtime, statutory holidays and employee benefits. Those municipalities include the District of West Vancouver; the District of North Vancouver; the City of North Vancouver and the City of Coquitlam.

The spokesperson added that the RMOW has "very low turnover" and does not expect to add many positions in the coming years, but went on to say that there would not be a specific reduction of staff in any salary range.

The rise in remunerations at the RMOW seems small when compared to the communities Whistler uses for wage comparison, but that was of little consolation to Maureen Bader, B.C. Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

She said Whistler already had the highest cost of per capita service delivery in the province - $5,085 per permanent resident. Bader said that's only getting bigger, although the number on its own doesn't take into account Whistler's fluctuating population as a tourist destination and the infrastructure necessary to service that population.

"Municipal governments are completely out of touch with the realities of the taxpaying families and the salary increase is just a really good example of that," Bader said. "The Olympics may or may not have anything to do with it, but the reality is, this is a trend that's been happening for years.

Asked why remunerations keep going up, she said that's due in large part to negotiations with unions.

"The remuneration went up at all of these local governments in a big part because when it comes to negotiating with a union, city councils are completely gutless," she said. "Not only that, the management staff, the non-union staff has got a big incentive to let union salaries go as high as politically feasible because their salaries then go up even more."

Brian Bonney, director of provincial affairs in B.C. for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said municipalities are looking to each other to decide what their wage increases should be. That's a problem when a local government like the District of Mission last year pitched a 19.4 per cent wage increase over four years to its employees as a first offer in negotiations with its union.

"The other unions in the Lower Mainland now whipsaw their municipality, say this is what we deserve because this is what Mission did," he said. "We get into a vicious circle of unions pointing to Mission saying, this is what they got, this is what we deserve. And municipalities do not have the basic power to say no."

The result, Bonney said, is that municipalities are providing higher wages on the backs of local taxpayers - so much that around British Columbia, salaries for municipal employees is on average 35 per cent higher than they would be in the private sector.

The highest-paid employee at the municipality in 2009 was Jim Godfrey, executive director of the RMOW's 2010 Games Office. He made $239,499.46 last year, down from $250,580.22 in 2008 but up from $222,803 in 2007. He recorded his last day of work at the municipality on June 30 after serving as administrator and overseeing Whistler's participation in the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

The next-biggest salary went to Administrator Bill Barratt, who made $201,106.58 in 2009. That salary was down slightly from his 2008 paycheque of $201,601.72 but up from $191,617 in 2007.

Included as a municipal employee was Cheeying Ho, executive director of the Whistler Centre for Sustainability. Her remuneration was listed at $129,543.64, with $2,940.69 in expenses.

Ho was listed there despite the fact that the RMOW has consistently stated that the WCS is an independent entity. A spokesperson explained that the RMOW was handling payroll for the WCS right up until May 31 and staffers there making more than $75,000 were thus listed as municipal employees.

Other communities saw increases in remuneration that exceeded Whistler's. Remunerations at the City of Coquitlam went up more than $12 million since 2007, going from $46,577,865 that year to $59,220,491 in 2009. Coquitlam also doubled the number of staff making over $75,000, going from 117 in 2007 to 240 in 2009.

The District of West Vancouver, meanwhile, saw its payouts rise by over $7 million between 2007 and 2009. Its employees collectively made $39,191,460.55 in 2007, rising to $46,316,002.62 in 2009. Staff numbers also rose from 124 in 2007 to 204 last year.

Remunerations ate up a major portion of West Vancouver's property tax revenue. In 2007 its payouts made up 81.8 per cent of the revenue and in 2009 that rose to 88.7 per cent.

When it came to council payouts in Whistler, Mayor Ken Melamed's remuneration saw a sharp decrease since 2007, when it was listed as $80,221.63. In 2008 it went down to $55,502.43 and in 2009 it was $57,422.37.

A spokesperson with the RMOW said one-third of elected officials' salaries are reflected as an allowance for income tax purposes. In 2007 this allowance was erroneously included in the remuneration column for all elected officials.

Back in 2007 all councillors made the same amount of money, $28,751.78. In 2008, former Councillors Bob Lorriman, Gordon McKeever, Tim Wake and Nancy Wilhelm-Morden all made $18,839.19. Ralph Forsyth and Eckhard Zeidler both made $19,911.34. Meanwhile new councillor Grant Lamont made $1,070.53; Ted Milner made $1,124.63; Chris Quinlan made $1,070.63; and Tom Thomson made $1,118.63.

In 2009, Councillors Forsyth and Zeidler both made $20,588.13; Thomson made $20,612.45; Lamont made $20,838.37; Quinlan made $21,236.49; and Milner made $22,239.85.

Resort Municipality of Whistler

Population: 9,248 (2006 Census)

Property Taxes (2009): $29,594,045 (projected)    
Remuneration: $20,278,306.25 (68.5%)

Property Taxes (2008): $33,971,692                            
Remuneration: $19,545,545.38 (57.5%)

Property Taxes (2007): $31,324,771                         
Remuneration: $17,488,725.37 (55.8%)

Staff > $75,000 (2009): 69

Staff > $75,000 (2008): 61

Staff > $75,000 (2007): 47

Remuneration Change: +$2,789,580.88


City of North Vancouver

Population: 45,165 (2006 Census)

Property Taxes (2009): $39,770,000                         
Remuneration: $29,177,964.58 (73.3%)

Property Taxes (2008): $37,695,000                         
Remuneration: $27,294,599.70 (72.4%)

Property Taxes (2007): $35,436,000                            
Remuneration: $26,008,110.07 (73.3%)

Staff > $75,000 (2009): 126

Staff > $75,000 (2008): 98

Staff > $75,000 (2007): 82

Remuneration Change: +$3,169,854.51


District of West Vancouver

Population: 42,131 (2006 Census)

Property Taxes (2009): $52,190,992                         
Remuneration: $46,316,002.62 (88.7%)

Property Taxes (2008): $50,115,912                         
Remuneration: $41,081,156.38 (81.9%)

Property Taxes (2007): $47,910,590                         
Remuneration: $39,191,460.55 (81.8%)

Staff > $75,000 (2009): 204

Staff > $75,000 (2008): 126

Staff > $75,000 (2007): 124

Remuneration Change: +$7,124,542.07


District of North Vancouver

Population: 82,562 (2006 Census)

Property Taxes (2009): $73,915,542                          
Remuneration: $42,960,250 (58.1%)

Property Taxes (2008): $70,908,857                          
Remuneration: $38,291,390 (54.0%)

Property Taxes (2007): $67,666,875                          
Remuneration: $36,006,548 (53.2%)

Staff > $75,000 (2009): 122

Staff > $75,000 (2008): 142

Staff > $75,000 (2007): 122

Remuneration Change: +$6,953,702


City of Coquitlam

Population: 114,565 (2006 Census)

Property Taxes (2009): $110,000,775                 
Remuneration: $59,220,491 (53.8%)

Property Taxes (2008): $103,212,238                 
Remuneration: $53,339,458 (51.6%)

Property Taxes (2007): $  96,404,775                 
Remuneration: $46,577,865 (48.3%)

Staff > $75,000 (2009): 240

Staff > $75,000 (2008): 152

Staff > $75,000 (2007): 117

Remuneration Change: +$12,642,626

- post by Jesse Ferreras of Pique Newsmagazine, based in Whistler, BC. For a related story see our FOI on the large increase in Vancouver Police Department salaries.


We must find fault with our elected representatives. They are not being at all sensitive to the tight financial times. Not only are we seeing salary creep, we are seeing head count creep. It is so easy to do this in the public sector where additional costs just get tacked on to the tax bills. In the private sector, additional costs are often not recoverable. Taxpayers need to make this point with their Councillors. Very strongly.
I suspect the3 current Vancouver Councillors will pay little heed to this issue. They have already chosen to move away from the employers' regional bargaining unit, allowing savvy unions to whipsaw local governments. Don't blame the unions for doing their jobs. Blame the elected folks.



The idea of ridding the dumpsters has been in 'the works' for several years now. However, they get push-back from the various 'advocate' groups in the DTES, as they state that this would hurt the 'binners' who make a living by going through the dumpsters.

There was a program put into place by I believe, Councilor Anton, where they alleys in the DTES area were hosed down once or twice a day for a period of X weeks (I think 10). It was part of a trial period to held 'clean' that area. What happened after that, I do not know.

So are we all ready to admit yet that the constant demand for tax dollars for basic services and infrastructure is simply about rising wages?

Are we going to admit, before we are Greece2, that the pension plans that were set up based on people drawing for about 7 years are going to quickly go broke when half of the retirees collect on them for 35 years?

The pendulum has swung WAY to far. The public sector is jerking the system to make sure everyone gets a boost for their last 5 years, because that is what their pension is based on.

We continue to pay more tax, and get less from the system. Where does the money go? Straight into public sector pockets.

Yes. The Unions have been sucessful in gaining advantage in their contracts, particularly through having friendly elected officials.

The public needs to pick what services that they want done and communicate that to their politicians. Bureaucracies grow because people want more services and the politicians agree to it. If you don't think your municipality should be in a particular business, tell your politicians.

Can municipalities do more of their work, cheaper? Of course. Just remember that doing things that way entails some risk (contractual disputes, quality control issues, scope creep, etc), and municipal staff are rarely complimented over successes and roasted when things go poorly, thus making them (and pretty much all levels of government) risk averse.

When it comes to pay scales, how about an objective review of pay for folks doing the same work? I know that CoV did one a few years ago.

Thank you for posting this first-rate piece of journalism. Facts have a way of focussing the mind.
At the same time that public sector wages grow (at the expense of reduced levels of service and huge amounts of borrowing), public employees pay ever more in taxes themselves as they move into the tax brackets with the highest marginal rates. Further they face the same rising costs of living which their wage demands created in the first place. Many of them joined in the Dutchman's Folly, signing petitions opposing the HST and taxes in general and threatening to recall the Premier and members of Cabinet. How does that make sense?
Having seen the world's financial system totter on the brink we boomers panic and go for the gold as we head for the exits.
In sum, 3 and 4%/yr increase in cost without any increase in productivity is unsustainable, as the executive director of the Whistler Centre for Sustainability could no doubt confirm, if she were still working for Whistler.
Whistler past the graveyard is more like it.

Most people without knowlegde probably think that the out of control municiple salary system is "All the Unions fault". But it appears that it is the process of Managers negotiating with the Unions that is the root of the problem. Mangers recieve the same raises as the Unions so they are in effect negotiating their own salaries.

Very few Union positions earn over 75 K. Almost all the the high end City Salaries are Management and other non-Unionized positions. The $1200/year increase that the $30,000/year Union worker is creating a $4000/year for a Manager making $100,000/year. It is these high end salaries which are driving up the overall costs.

The whole process is broken and nothing is going to change until more people realize what is going on.

You think the numbers are high from these municipalities take a look at New Westminster, the oldest city in BC. Then add in the recent pay raise for our elected officials. Using the time tested reasoning "we are not keeping up with our neighbours so we should get a raise". Additionally there is little mention of using "consultants". Another way to supplement staff and add to the cost.
Solutions anyone?????

I couldn't agree more. The conspiracy is the decision of non-union management.

As much as I think the unions have it a little too good right now, that's why they organize and fight. They'll lose again at some point. That's been going on for hundreds of years.

But non-union management have been stuffing their face at the trough and will bankrupt us all if they are not stopped. The classic is the Superintendent of the Bella Coola school system. $193,000 a year + pension and there are 250 kids in the district. If it were not so sad it would be funny.

What's the ratio of managers to employees again?

Follow the money.

In the private sector there is tension between ownership, management and unions because poor judgement can put the enterprise at risk. No such tension exists in the public sector with management piggy backing on union settlements and politicians of all political stripes seem to fear organized labour more than the rest of the voters. They tell us these are the services we want and we are going to have to pay for it.

Check out!

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