Tuesday April 15, 2014


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Editorial

Reduction in muni wages long overdue

Editorial
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It’s that time of year again — one that raises emotions among Whistlerites of frustration and envy, and likely causes some angst for a few municipal staffers.

The latest Statements of Financial Information (SOFI) report, with its list of Whistler’s muni employees who make more than $75,000 in salary and benefits, was released last week.

The figures, from 2011, show a reduction of $1.2 million in total employee costs from 2010. Good news, to be sure — but with extra staff and additional hours associated with the 2010 Games a reduction in staff costs last year was to be expected.

Even though the number of $75K-plus earners went up by one — from 78 people in 2010 to 79 last year — the number of staffers earning $100K or more was down by 11. Another bit of good news.

Coming on the heels of a new, action-oriented council and a zero-per-cent property tax increase for 2012, this latest “good-news story” coming out of municipal hall might fly mostly under the local radar. Argue as much as you want that the news industry in general is too focused on negative stories, but what gets you talking more than some kind of tragedy or injustice?

Yes, there are some positive things happening at the hall, but attention must continue to be paid to municipal wages — in both Whistler and beyond.

I had a conversation with a friend about the latest Whistler SOFI report after it came out last week, and he described the 2011 information as somewhat anti-climactic or even “boring” this time around.

But I begged to differ. The reason why the SOFI report tends to get so much attention in Whistler when it’s released every year is that for the vast majority of local employees, levels of annual pay and benefits don’t even come close to $75,000. Some locals would feel lucky to get even half that.

So when we find out that, for example, Bill Barratt made almost $216,000 in wages and benefits in 2011 — even though he retired in early July — blood starts to boil.

There are some highly educated and qualified people in Whistler who can only dream of making more than $200K for basically half a year of work.

My friend said he figures some of the top positions at major local organizations such as Whistler Blackcomb must pay six figures. We can only speculate, but there certainly aren’t 33 people earning $100K-plus at any other local organization. (That’s how many people were listed at $100,000 or more in the latest SOFI report.)

He then went on to argue that in order for Whistler to draw qualified and quality municipal employees, the RMOW needs to offer comparable wages to other municipalities. OK, I’ll admit he’s got a point there — but here comes the crux of the argument about why we need to keep an eye on municipal wages. According to a report this week, it seems municipal wages in general in B.C. are long overdue for a reality check.

According to the Independent Contractors and Business Association (ICBA) of B.C., which examined 10 municipal union agreements from across B.C., pay and benefits packages for muni workers are more than 30 to 40 per cent higher than for workers who do the exact same jobs in the private sector.

Now that’s a meaningful comparison.

Here’s what ICBA’s president, Philip Hochstein, said in a media release: “These gold-plated pay and perk packages are the main reason why city hall never turns around to tell you your taxes are going down.

“What's unfair about the situation is you're being asked to send more money to the taxman off your paycheque to subsidize increases so civic workers can get pay and pension richer than yours.”

Sure, property taxes stayed flat in Whistler this year. But discussions are currently underway at municipal hall about what municipal staff wage increases will look like for 2012.

It’s time for municipal wages and benefits across the board — in Whistler, in B.C. and beyond — to step into line with the private sector.

Maybe Whistler can even lead the charge on such an initiative.

— Jennifer Miller


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