City council approves pay hikes for mayor, councillors

Prince George's mayor and city councillors will see an increase in pay on Jan. 1, after city council approved the raises Monday.

The mayor's remuneration will increase from $98,826 in 2017 to $127,889 in 2019, while city councillors will see an increase from $32,936 in 2017 to $37,466 in 2019. In addition, the mayor's vehicle allowance will increase from $300 to $750 per month, and all members of council will be able to claim their expenses for attending events, workshops and seminars directly relevant to municipal affairs and any membership dues or association fees relevant to their position on council.

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The increases were recommended by the Advisory Committee on Council Remuneration, which reviewed council's pay compared to nine similar-sized B.C. communities. Prince George's council remuneration was below the average of the sample communities - $101,158 per year for mayors and $39,109 for city councillors. Prince George's mayor remuneration was ranked sixth out of the 10, while the city's councillors were paid the least out of the group.

The committee - chairperson Cori Ramsay and members Tim Drummond, Lee-Ann Mowbray, Heather Sanford and Harvey Smerychynski - recommended an additional six per cent increase for city councillors. The recommendation would have see councillors' pay rise to $39,764 in 2019, but was voted down by city council.

Ramsay said the committee's recommendation were largely in reaction to changes in federal tax laws. Currently, one third of elected municipal officials' pay is exempt from federal income tax, but that will end on Jan. 1.

The pay increase for city council will result in councillors' after-tax pay staying the same, Ramsay said. Likewise the majority of the mayor's pay increase was intended to make up for the additional federal taxes - with the mayor needing to make $122,382 to take home the same pay he currently receives.

The additional cost to the city to keep council's take-home pay at the same level amounts to $78,154 per year, she said, or about 0.13 per cent of the city's total salary expenses.

The recommendations were approved after a lengthy debate, which saw dissent and amendments made to reduce the proposed increases.

"We're not asking for any more money here, we're just asking for a level playing field," Coun. Brian Skakun said on the issue of city councillors' pay. "If you vote against an increase in council's wages, you're supporting a reduction in wage, because that is what is going to happen."

Skakun said it's not uncommon for city councillors with other jobs to use their holiday time or take unpaid time off to do city council work.

Coun. Jillian Merrick, who will not be running for council again, advocated for the additional six per cent increase for city councillors. Merrick said she tracked her hours for her first year in office, and found she was working 25 hours a week on average as a city councillor.

While she did work other jobs, being a city councillor became her primary income, Merrick said, and for many younger people looking to get into politics they may need that income to be able to afford to run for council.

And, if bring a councillor paid sufficiently, it would allow more councillors to do that work as their primary employment instead of, "just a side job," she said.

"You can be in meetings three to seven times a week, let alone the cake cuttings and the all the other things," Merrick said.

Coun. Murry Krause said ensuring city council's pay is at a reasonable level would make council a more inclusive body.

"(And) I think the job has changed and it's getting bigger," he said. "It's become much more of a full-time position than a part-time position."

Coun. Terri McConnachie said, while she supports the additional increase for the mayor -as all members of council did -she didn't believe councillors were intended to be full time positions.

"This is not my full-time job, it's my privilege," McConnachie said. "A large portion of what we do is public service."

Coun. Albert Koehler agreed.

"The question is 'why are we here?' For the mayor it is a full-time job, no doubt," Koehler said. "(But) when it comes to us councillors, I have a different opinion."

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