Colwood votes 5-2 to double council remuneration

Timing is bad, mayor admits, but the increase needed to happen.

Comparison of mayoral remuneration in the Westshore

Comparison of mayoral remuneration in the Westshore.

A key item on Colwood’s agenda at last night’s council meeting was whether to increase remuneration for council. Making this decision so close to the election was unfortunate timing, but Colwood Mayor Rob Martin said it was important for this council to make the call before the term ends.

“The idea was that this council was making the decision for the next council, so the next council isn’t voting on its own remuneration,” he told The Westshore.

A committee of four Colwood locals was organized earlier this year to do an independent review on council remuneration and make a recommendation. They finished the report in July, so last night’s meeting was the first opportunity for this council to vote.

The committee's recommendation was to double the remuneration for both mayor and councillors to $61,054 and $30,527, respectively, with an option to stagger the increase over the next one or two council terms (four to eight years).

Council voted 5-2 to accept the full increase, to take effect in January 2023. Couns. Doug Kobayashi and Cynthia Day opposed.

The committee chose to base compensation on population instead of a percentage-increase over the current salary. Now, Colwood pays $1.74 per resident per year for the mayor, and councillors get 50% of what the mayor makes. That’s among the lowest compensation in South Island municipalities. The new recommendation will bring the per-capita compensation to $3.22, bringing it to fourth-highest.

Colwood is not alone in trying to review remuneration before the end of the term. Sooke increased compensation in May to take effect for the next councils, and Esquimalt considered an increase at its council meeting last night.

The report compares Colwood to neighbouring municipalities under 100,000 people, and four other BC cities of similar size. Langford has the lowest compensation per capita at $1.69, but its higher population puts mayoral remuneration at $78,615. Metchosin pays the most per capita, but it only works out to $27,449 a year for the mayor.

The report did not account for extra payment council members get from sitting on regional committees, which averages $28,455 for area directors, including expenses.

Discussion between councillors circled around the philosophy of public service. Couns. Stewart Parkinson, Day, and Kobayashi said that the job of a councillor is an act of service that shouldn’t need to be compensated equal to a regular job.

Parkinson moved to cut the amount by an arbitrary 30% to “reflect the public service nature of what we do at this table.” His proposal, seconded by Kobayashi, was defeated.

Kobayashi released a statement after last week’s committee of the whole meeting calling the increase “tone deaf,” saying this is not the time to increase taxes. He criticized the process the committee used, and asked why they weren’t made available to council for questions. He concluded his speech to council on Monday saying, “Leaders eat last.”

In response, Couns. Dean Janzen, Gordie Logan, and Michael Baxter asked: What about the renters and single parents who can’t afford to give 20 hours a week to council without equitable compensation? Baxter added the next council can choose to reject the increase in the fall if it decides it doesn't need the extra money.

Former two-term councillor Judith Cullington spoke in favour of the increase. The current remuneration is too low for most people to afford the time it takes to be a councillor, which she pegged at 30 hours a week.

“I would’ve run for a third term, but I couldn’t afford it. The wages just were simply not there to make it happen,” she told council. “I want to be looking at a lovely sea of faces [at the council table] of people who represent the diversity of Colwood, not just the people who can afford to run.”

Martin, who will run again for mayor of Colwood against Kobayashi, shares the perspective that fair compensation will encourage a more diverse slate of candidates.

“Just look at who sits at our table right now: the youngest person we have sitting at the council table is 50 years old, and I would suggest that all seven of us are in a financial position where we don't need to have that income,” Martin said.

“That should not be the way it is. That's not representative of Colwood.