A divided Prince George city council approved raises and increased benefits for mayor and council, starting in 2023.
City councillors will get a 3.5 per cent raise on Jan. 1, 2023 and Jan. 1, 2024. The 3.5 per cent increase translates to a $1,326.78 increase per year for councillors in 2023. The mayor will receive a one per cent raise in 2023 and 2024, equal to $1,294.61 in 2023.
The increases were based on the recommendations of the independent Advisory Committee on Council Remuneration, after a review of the compensation for mayors and councilors in eight similar-sized cities in B.C. (Langley, Delta, North Vancouver, Saanich, Victoria, Nanaimo, Kelowna and Kamloops).
Committee chairperson Martin Taylor said they mayor’s current pay, $129,461 per year, was fourth out of the nine communities, but Prince George’s councillors were the lowest out of the nine communities at $37,908 per year – more than $10,000 below the nine-community average of $49,590.
“The reason we did it in a two-year phase is it would be easier on the pocketbooks of the community,” Taylor said.
City council gets cost-of-living increases based on the raises given to the city’s union-exempt management staff, city finance director Kris Dalio said. They received a zero per cent increase in 2020 and 2021, and two per cent in 2022, he said. The city’s unionized CUPE staff received two per cent raises each of those years.
Mayor Lyn Hall said he is “absolutely adamant” that members of council are appropriately compensated for the work they do. He said he sees no difference in the amount to work done by Prince George’s mayor and council than those of larger communities like Kamloops and Kelowna.
“This is a tough job,” Mayor Lyn Hall said. “None of us put up our hand because we wanted to increase our salaries year after year."
Coun. Cori Ramsay, who chaired the last remuneration committee four years ago, said inflation hit 7.7 per cent in May. Serving on city council takes a significant commitment of time, and increasing the remuneration for city council will make it more accessible for those considering to run in October.
“Pay equity is a huge issue here,” Ramsay said. “I have made sacrifices… 104 unpaid days off work, by the end of the term, will be what I’ve sacrificed.”
In addition, she’s used 20 weeks of paid holiday time to do council business, Ramsay added.
Coun. Susan Scott said being a city councillor can make it hard to find and maintain other work. When she was first elected to city council, she lost her day job because “you can’t serve two masters,” she said.
“Not everyone who is on council is finding it easy to find work, other than council,” she said.
Coun. Frank Everitt said it is important for the public to understand that the raises approved will not come into effect until after the Oct. 15 election.
“It’s up to the citizens of Prince George to decide who will sit there,” Everitt said.
However, not all members of council agree the raise was necessary or fair.
“Are we playing catch up? Sure,” Coun. Brian Skakun said. “(But) we can’t go to the CUPE locals and say, ‘We think two per cent for you is fair, but 3.5 per cent is good for us.’”
Coun. Terri McConnachie said Prince George is smaller than the other B.C. cities the committee compared.
“I do think it is very important to attract people to this position,” she said. “(But) the stipend we receive is meant to offset those… days that effect our employment.”
Skakun, McConnachie and Coun. Garth Frizzell voted against the wage increase.
COUNCILLORS TO RECEIVE MORE BENEFITS
In addition to the pay increase, city councillors who opt into the city’s extended health benefits will have half their premiums paid by the city, starting in 2023. That coverage is worth roughly $33 to $50 per month, depending on how many people are covered, council heard. Ramsay and Coun. Kyle Sampson opposed the benefit coverage.
Also starting in 2023, the city will reimburse councillors up to $40 per day for babysitting or childminding costs incurred while attending council or committee meetings, events and official functions.
A councillor who misses three meetings because of lack of childcare could be removed from city council, Ramsay said.
“Of all the recommendations in this report, this is the one that brings the most equity,” Coun. Murry Krause said.
“I hope this makes a difference. That people will think, ‘I can serve my community and take care of my family,’” McConnachie said.
However, council unanimously rejected a proposed $250 a month car allowance for city councillors.
“I can’t see adding seven per cent over two years and the council reimbursement of $250 a month,” Frizzell said. “I am not comfortable with doing (both) at the same time.”
Sampson said the $250 vehicle allowance would equal a $3,000 per year raise, more than two 3.5 per cent raises combined.
“I drive a heck of a lot for this job, but if we go through with this recommendation, there would need to be receipts and accountability,” he said.