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.