RDCK directors punt proposed wage increase into next month

Area D Director Aimee Watson made a motion that staff look at the impact of spreading the 20-per-cent increase over two years.
Area D Director Aimee Watson made a motion that staff look at the impact of spreading the 20-per-cent increase over two years.

Directors of the Regional District of the Central Kootenay have asked staff to look further into the idea of how they can give themselves a wage increase of up to 20 per cent in the next few years.

The directors asked staff in January to study the impact of a 20-per-cent wage increase on this year’s budget. Directors hope to make a decision before finalizing this year’s budget in April.

The RDCK’s finance department report back to the board said increasing the stipend would add just under $100,000 to the district’s budget for director’s wages, from $476,000 to $572,000 annually. The increase would add an average of about $761 to each director’s pay packet monthly.

Director’s aren’t all paid the same. A municipal director- usually a mayor or councillor- currently gets $1,064 monthly. A rural director receives $2,741.

After reviewing the finance report, Area D Director Aimee Watson made a motion that staff look at the impact of spreading the 20-per-cent increase over two years.

“There’s no way this is an attempt to grab money and make a killing on it, it is a basic, basic living,” she said after the meeting. “Most people do not do this full time, because you can’t.”

Watson noted that a lot of her job is acting as a first point of contact for people trying to navigate provincial or federal regulations- yet the people responsible for creating those regulations make $100,000 a year more than a regional director.

“I’ve had to turn a lot of people away, saying please contact your MLA, please contact your MP, it is a completely different world,” she says. “The ability to help the local community and our residents… tends to fall back on us, yet the wages to support that are not there.”

Many directors agreed that the low wages of a director tend to promote older people with pensions to do the job, and discourages younger people from a career in public service. But they were treading cautiously around the proposal.

Village of Salmo Director Stephen White said he wouldn’t support a 20 per cent increase today, and thought the issue needed more study.

“I am also not clear that simply increasing the stipend is the only way to draw in younger people, there are other mechanisms to do that,” he told reporters after the meeting. “So I would like a broader approach to looking at the issue.

“[But] yes, some of our members of the board, they are working a full-time job for far less than minimum wage.”

White said he would support an external group looking at the proposal. However, staff said such a study would likely cost more than the increase itself.

Directors decided in the end to go back to staff and look at other options for an increase this year- something that made White nervous.

“It’s very tough. My experience has been it’s just not normal that you set your own pay,” he said. “Municipal councils, when they set a pay increase, it comes in effect after the next election.

“Having said that, this issue has been roiling away in not only this regional district, but in others. And you look at around this table there is a lot of grey hair.”

Staff will bring further information to the board before budget talks begin in earnest in the next month.

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