Last week, members of Squamish council voted themselves a pay raise, and good on them. They deserve it. Based on everything we’ve seen in more than a decade living in these parts, $26,875 a year for what they do — the research, the meetings, the discussions with citizens, the abuse they sometimes endure — is fair.
That’s not the issue, nor is the fact that 23 people stepped forward to run for election last November the issue. The number isn’t really what matters. What does matter is the quality. If even one or two people who would have made outstanding councillors didn’t step forward because they knew they couldn’t take the financial hit, then it was a great loss to the community. Public office shouldn’t be reserved for those who are well-to-do or retired. Those from all walks of life should be encouraged to step forward.
The problem is the five words at the beginning of this editorial: “voted themselves a pay raise.” No one should have that right. How to avoid it? Do as an astute online commenter suggested this week: adopt a bylaw stipulating that an automatic pay review is triggered every three years, a few months before the election. The review should include a comparison with other, similar-sized B.C. communities. Bring that information to council with a recommendation to either keep pay at the same level or increase it.
Here’s the kicker: If the pay-increase option is chosen, the bylaw should stipulate that the raise only takes effect after the election — ensuring that no one who votes on the raise is guaranteed to get it. Instead, he or she receives the extra dough only after earning a new mandate.
While we’re sympathetic to those who voted in favour of the increase, the optics of last week’s situation are all wrong. The previous council, after all, voted in a modest increase, from $17,760 to $20,640, phased in over two years. Six months later, a new council — with four of the same members (one of whom moved up to the mayor’s job) is back at the trough for a 30 per cent increase. This, before this council has even adopted a budget — which, by the way, will see property owners fork over 7.5 per cent more than in 2011.
In this instance, we agree with Mayor Rob Kirkham and councillors Doug Race and Ron Sander, who voted against the hike. Those who voted in favour of the raise had better be prepared to get things turned around in this town — starting now.
— David Burke