Do these folks need a raise?

It's going to be a tough call for City Council — heck, raising your salary is always a tough call if you're a small-town political leader — but since they haven't had a raise since 2004, they're thinking about it now. Mayor David Raven (front and center) is flanked by Councillors Tony Scarcella (left) and Chris Johnston. In back are, from left to right, Councillors Phil Welock, Steve Bender, RCMP Const. Gary McLaughlin who is not a Council member, Antoinette Halberstadt and Peter Frew. Photo courtesy of the City of Revelstoke

By David F. Rooney

It’s going to be a tough call for City Council — heck, raising your salary is always a tough call if you’re a small-town political leader — but since they haven’t had a raise since 2004, they’re thinking about it now.

“I’m not saying we should do it but I find that with the amount of time I have to take off my job to attend Council I’m actually losing money,” Councillor Antoinette Halberstadt said as Councillors, meeting as a Committee of the Whole (CoW) last Tuesday, reviewed the policy governing their indemnities.

Mayor David Raven is paid $22,000 a year and each of the six Councillors receive $11,000 to perform their duties as Revelstoke’s top municipal decision makers. The $88,000 they are collectively paid represents 0.29% of the overall budget being discussed for 2010. It’s not a lot of money and Halberstadt’s comments are not unique. Mark McKee, when he was mayor, occasionally griped about losing money.

But raising your pay when you may be about to jack up property taxes is a difficult thing to justify, even if you work hard to earn it. Council and CoW meetings can eat up anywhere from three to four hours a week all by themselves. Then there are committee meetings, public events and other functions that they either must attend or are expected to attend.

Councillor Steve Bender says he probably spends about 12 hours a week just reading all the materials provided him so he can make informed decisions at the Council table and “that’s just reading — that’s not going to meetings.” When it comes to committee meetings and other functions he figures he’s spending about two or three hours a week doing that. So does he want a raise?

“That’s a no-brainer,” Bender said. ” Who doesn’t want a pay raise? But will I take one? That’s a very different question and there are a lot of other considerations I’d have to take into account.”

Councillor Chris Johnston agrees. He says councillors work hard at the job and for $11,000 “are obviously not in it for the money.”

“I think we deserve a raise,” he said. “But will we vote for one? I don’t think so.”

And no one probably works harder than Mayor David Raven who estimates his commitment to City Council and the welfare of the community demands 20-40 hours a week.

“I’m against it,” says Councillor Tony Scarcella. “I don’t think we should raise our pay when we’re raising taxes.”

Council hasn’t actually decided that it will, in fact, raise taxes but the budget projections it is currently discussing during its twice-monthly CoW meetings all assume a five per cent increase.

How much do mayors and councillors in other, similarly sized, cities make? The mayor and councillors in Terrace, which has a population of 8,893, are paid $27,670 and $11,514, respectively. In Williams Lake — population 8.362 — the mayor makes $43,688 and councillors receive $15,240. And in Courtnay, which has 8,992 people, the mayor is paid $46,137.82 and councillors $19,838.83. So Revelstoke’s Council is definitely playing in the shallow end of the salary pool.

Be that as it may, Councillor Phil Welock said he and other Council members are already giving up the stipends they receive for sitting on the boards of the Revelstoke Community Forest Corp. and the Revelstoke Community Energy Corp. And they may not take a raise now.

“I doubt salaries will be raised now,” Raven said. “There isn’t an appetite for it.”