Council calls for report on senior staff pay, benefits

City council requested a report back before the end of the year on how the pay and benefits for the city's senior staff compares to other similar municipalities.

Coun. Kyle Sampson brought the issue forward to council, saying it's time for "a good objective look" at how the city compensates its union-exempt staff – particularly the city's overtime pay policy.

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"I'm really keen on this overtime piece," Sampson said. "This survey won't be the be-all and end-all. It think it's extremely important that Prince George do what works for Prince George." 

The city needs to find a compromise that works for staff and for taxpayers, he said.

Under the city's existing policies, the review should already be underway, Sampson said.

Under a policy approved by city council in 2011, the city is supposed to conduct "a comprehensive compensation survey" every three years which compares the salaries, benefits, overtime provisions, vacation time and other conditions of employment for the city's union-exempt staff to similar municipalities.

The last survey was conducted in 2017 and presented to city council in December of that year, city manager Kathleen Soltis said. The survey, conducted by an independent consultant, looked at the 10 largest municipalities in B.C. – the same communities used to compare the city's compensation for the mayor and city councillors.

"It was in the work plan, but it was put off," Soltis said.

Those 10 communities are used, because they are the closest comparable employers, she said.

"Those are the municipalities that will be looking to our staff if they have vacancies to fill," Soltis said.

The survey depends on the participation of staff at the participating municipalities, she said, with communities grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic municipal staff in those communities were likely, "focusing on key, essential work."

The pandemic could also distort the results, she said. In Prince George, the city eliminated the scheduled cost of living increases for exempt staff for 2020 and 2021, she said. 

In addition, Soltis said earlier this year the city changed its policy regarding overtime pay for exempt staff. While previously those staff members were paid double for overtime, now they receive time-and-a-half, in line with the city's unionized employees.

While city council has final authority of city budgets, the city manager has responsibility for administrating exempt staff compensation within that budget.

Coun. Brian Skakun said he believes city council should be playing a bigger role in the direct administration of senior staff.

"Some of us on council have been pushing for this conversation for months or years, and it is long overdue," Skakun said. "Quite frankly, it's been quite frustrating."

Coun. Terri McConnachie said she hopes the report is presented in an open council meeting, for the sake of transparency to the public.

"I do think it's important we have an accurate comparison to our community and market," she said. "To be blunt, this is an opportunity to look at the overtime policy."

Council voted to have the report prepared and brought before them by the last council meeting of the year, on Dec. 21.

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