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ROTHENBURGER – When municipal politicians think they’re worth too much

Used with permission – originally posted in CFJC Today

HOW MUCH IS a municipal politician worth?

A common answer among taxpayers is likely to be, less than they’re getting.
It’s a serious question, though, and a challenging one. Councils have the unenviable job of deciding how much they should pay themselves.

Unenviable, because while setting your own salary might seem like a dream come true, in politics it’s a deadly proposition. Councils are often justifiably criticized for the size of those pay raises, and they approach pay-raise time with trepidation.
Revelstoke City Council
Take Revelstoke, for example. The council there is desperately trying to keep from being hanged, drawn and quartered in the town square — if they have one — in a storm of public outrage over a pay increase.

It’s a problem of their own making, beginning with a bizarre decision to increase the mayor’s pay 134 per cent and councillors’ pay 67 per cent. That results in a tidy little increase for the mayor from $30,600 to $70,000 and councilors from $15,300 to $25,000.

This has not gone over well with taxpayers who consider themselves lucky if they get a one or two per cent boost in their workaday paycheques.

At a budget meeting this week, Councillor Steven Cross made a motion that the pay increases be rescinded and instead put towards the town’s infrastructure needs. When it was defeated, he pulled out a letter of resignation.

Noting that “our roads are a mess,” he called the pay raises “a choice of self-interest over mission of service to our community.”

Cross became an instant hero. Councillors who voted for the increase (Councillor Michael Brooks-Hill seconded Cross’s motion and voted with him in the 2-4 defeat) have been getting a rough ride from taxpayers.

The issue even managed to come into play as part of union negotiations. CUPE Local 363, which has been bargaining for a new contract, issued strike notice after the council meeting, noting the raises for mayor and council in comparison to union members seeking “modest increases.”

Councillor Cody Younker, who proposed the pay raises, and argued for them during Tuesday’s budget meeting, has had a change of heart. Thursday, he announced he no longer thought the raises were a good idea.

He had help making his decision — he says he and his family have been verbally attacked. Younker characterized his change of mind as “leadership” that comes from listening to the public.

Whether Younker’s epiphany persuades Mayor Gary Sulz or either of the other two councillors who voted for the raise remains to be seen. Cross’s future is also a question mark. His resignation doesn’t take effect until Feb. 7 but the next scheduled council meeting isn’t until Feb. 10.

It’s a fine thing that Councillor Younker has belatedly “listened” but one must wonder what he and the council members who sided with him were thinking in the first place. That they thought pay raises of such magnitude were acceptable demonstrates stupendous political deafness.

It’s also interesting to note that part of the reason Cross was so dead set against the raises was that they didn’t bring the councillors closer to what the mayor gets paid. 

Such a large pay gap is (sic) does not foster a positive sense of team and it is not the leadership model that is right for our community” he said of the approximately 3-1 ratio.

There’s no magical formula on that, but 3-1 was established some 15 years ago for the Kamloops council. It’s gone up since. In 2015 councillors were boosted to 35 per cent of the mayor’s salary, boosted again to 37.5 per cent in 2016 and to 40 per cent in 2017.

Cross also felt the Revelstoke council should engage a third party to study the pay structure and make recommendations, an idea that Mayor Sulz opposed.
Sometimes, giving the job to someone else works, sometimes not. Back in the day, Kamloops council established a citizens’ committee to decide how much the mayor and council should be paid, but it came back with such high recommendations that the council rejected the committee’s report.

Another citizens’ task force in 2013 had better luck. Council voted 4-2 (three councillors were absent) to boost their own pay by roughly $10,000.

The mayor’s pay went from $74,434 to $85,754. With the gradual increases in the ratio of councillors pay to mayor’s pay, councillors went from $24,811 to $34,301 by 2017.

Then-councillor Nelly Dever famously said at the time that her fellow councillors should “just suck it up” and support the raises. She, Donovan Cavers, Arjun Singh and Nancy Bepple voted for them, with then-councillors Ken Christian and Tina Lange voting against. Lange was against the plan against because she thought councillors should immediately go to 40 per cent of the mayor’s rate instead of doing it gradually.

Mayor Christian’s current salary is in the mid-90s, while councilors are a tad under $38,000. If you’re wondering how that compares to other cities, it depends very much on population and local whim.

Prince George Mayor Lyn Hall makes close to $128,000 while the mayor of Chilliwack gets just over $115,000 and the mayor of Nanaimo receives $110,588. Smaller towns make much less — Logan Lake’s mayor gets just over $17,000, Merritt’s $36,000, Cache Creek’s just under $12,000 and Sun Peaks’ just over $9,000, to name a few.

Councillors in places like Mission, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody all make more than Kamloops councillors so local numbers aren’t outrageously out of line if you find value in comparisons.

Revelstoke isn’t the only place with pay-raise headaches. Victoria council has been getting the stink eye from voters and media for asking for a 54 per cent raise.

Whatever councils pay themselves; a lot of people are going to be unhappy.

The Revelstoke case, though, demonstrates that there are obvious lines that only council members with political suicide in mind should cross, no pun intended.

Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and a retired newspaper editor. He publishes the opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at


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