When it comes to public sector salaries, taxpayers are digging deeper into their wallets
CityCaucus.com 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.
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 CityCaucus.com FOI on the large increase in Vancouver Police Department salaries.