Salaries debated at CVRD board

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Andrea Rondeau / The Citizen
February 18, 2015 12:00 AM

With many new faces around the Cowichan Valley Regional District board table, directors spent two hours last week debating what, if anything, should be done about the salaries of CVRD employees who are not part of the union.

Critics have said salaries for these workers are increasing out of control, and it’s too heavy a burden to place on taxpayers.

These exempt staff employees are often managers of the regional district’s various departments.

Last year, the district paid consultant Julie Case to look at CVRD policy, then present the findings to a special committee struck to look into the matter. The committee came back to the board with recommendations to leave the process of how salaries are reached as-is. That process includes looking at comparators – other local governments of similar size, who are competing to hire such employees – and shooting to remain in the middle in terms of what the CVRD pays.

Raises are determined by matching those given to union employees at the CVRD.

“It is a very common practice,” CAO Brian Carruthers told the directors.

Those who did not support leaving the salary process the way it is argued that there needs to be some kind of tie not just to what comparable salaries are in other local governments, but to what people in the community are making.

Dir. Sonia Furstenau pointed out that the median salary in the Cowichan Valley is $38,000, and said that there should be an obligation “to really take into account the people who are paying these wages.”

To many, she said, six figure salaries seem “very, very large” and it’s hard to swallow the idea that they are increasing.

“Perpetuating a flawed system is problematic,” she said.

There is an opportunity here to take leadership, Furstenau said, rather than just going along with what other districts are paying.

“I think we have an exceptionally high quality of life,” she said of the Cowichan Valley, arguing that this can offset a lower salary than someone might be offered in a less desirable location.

Dir. Matteus Clement agreed.

“Let’s do something different,” he said, proposing exempt staff raises be given according to the Consumer Price Index in the future.

Others also favoured tying salaries

to CPI, though it was pointed out that there can be problems with this method as well. While CPI is very low right now, in the one per cent range, that can change quickly. In the past CPI has risen into the 19 per cent range.

Dir. Mel Dorey wasn’t happy with the idea of using percentages to give wage increases, as it favours those already at the top end of the pay scale. He doesn’t like a system where the CVRD is getting “wealthier and wealthier managers” with the rest of employees “dragging along behind,” he said.

Alternate Dir. Al Siebring said he is uncomfortable with leaving things the way they are.

“That is a guarantee that this is going to continue spiraling up,” he said, though when challenged he admitted “spiraling” was perhaps a bit of an overstatement.

Dir. Jon Lefebure spoke in favour of the current system, saying that aiming for the middle of the salary range for local governments takes into account that this is a desirable place to live.

Using comparators that are directly competing for talent is “a pretty good model,” he said, adding that “a good manager can save you a huge amount of money. A poor manager can cost you a huge amount of money.”

In the end, directors were not able to come to a decision about compensation, but did agree to have Case come back to the CVRD to speak to the entire board about her report, as well as CPI and some alternate comparator options.