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CVRD mulls salary cap for highest-priced staff

Cowichan Valley Regional District  chief administrative officer Warren Jones makes slightly more than B.C. Premier Christy Clark. -
Cowichan Valley Regional District chief administrative officer Warren Jones makes slightly more than B.C. Premier Christy Clark.
— image credit:

Concern about climbing compensation for Cowichan’s senior staff is rippling through the regional district after a south-end director’s wage-freeze motion last Wednesday.

But Rob Hutchins, Cowichan Valley Regional District chairman, explained Shawnigan Lake Director Bruce Fraser’s recommended wage-freeze could sit on ice until next year.

“Over the next two weeks, the board will be reviewing a number of options to help reduce the budget for 2013,” Hutchins’ email to the News Leader Pictorial reads.

“It is my understanding it’s not possible for the board to consider Director Fraser’s proposal to cap or freeze any increases to exempt staff salaries for 2013, as those increases took effect Jan. 1.”

However, such a cap could be considered for the 2014 budget, given by the board’s OK, he signalled.

Fraser called the spiralling wages “nuts.” He noted a proposed 2.5% senior-staff raise in the CVRD’s draft budget “to provide exempt staff the same wage (hike) as CUPE (staff) got.”

Mill Bay taxpayer Blaise Salmon’s recent letter rang alarms about the board’s nod to senior-staff raises, between 2007 and 2011, for some 34 CVRD exempt staff earning between $75,000 and $178,000.

That group’s earnings swelled from $1.6 million in ‘07, to $3.4 million in ‘11, spelling “a whopping 211% increase,” said Salmon.

“The amount paid CVRD staff earning under $75,000 grew by only 13% for the same period.”

CVRD’s unionized workers got raises of about 2.5% in recent years, he added.

Mayor Jon Lefebure agreed it’s fair for the board to re-examine senior wages for 2014 while contracts likely prevent Fraser’s freeze for the rest of this year.

His experience has shown higher wages lure better-qualified brass to Cowichan during competitive markets for cream applicants, at comparable salaries.

“I wouldn’t want us to be at the low end of the market with less capable staff.”

Former Cobble Hill director and tax watchdog, Richard Hughes, explained CVRD’s board is basically responsible for senior staff’s ballooning wages.

“I don’t particularly blame staff, but the chair and the board that approved (hikes). They’re supposed to be looking out for taxpayers.”

CVRD’s chief administrative officer, Warren Jones, makes $178,615; on par with Premier Christy Clark’s $177,888 (2012).

But Lefebure said premiers’ salaries evolve over time.

“Political salaries probably have more history than logic.”

And Hughes’ logic showed vilifying a couple of top salaries “is a cop-out.

“Let’s ask ‘How did we get here, and who’s driving the bus?’ I’d spend more money on elected directors (stipends).” (For more on that, see page five.)

Sharon Moss, CVRD’s, manager of finance, earning  $102,872, said all raises are approved by the board.

However, the CVRD’s corporate reorganization in recent years saw rejigging of responsibilities, and brought senior staffers’ earnings in line with other levels of governments, Moss explained.

“And just because one electoral area’s tax requisition goes up, doesn’t mean another’s will.”

Meanwhile, Fraser said, “The rest of the country is showing restraint, and we’re saying we’re different and don’t need to show restraint.”

Duncan Mayor Phil Kent recognized most private-sector wages fall far below the 19 to 34% uplift CVRD’s management got between ‘07 and ‘11.

“Public service isn’t an assured job either. Maybe we need to do a better job looking at compensations outside of government.”

 

Wage scale

Current wages for some of the CVRD’s senior exempt staff:

• Warren Jones, chief administrative officer,  $178,615

• Mark Kueber, general manager corporate services, $147,290;

• Tom Anderson, GM planning and development, $137,941;

• Ron Austen, GM parks, recreation, culture, $130,562;

• Brian Dennison, GM engineering services, $132,952;

• Brian Farquar, manager of parks and trails, $101,700;

• Mike Tippett, manager of community and regional planning, $113,361;

• Dave Leitch, manager water management, $106,200;

• Joe Barry, corporate secretary, $105,419.

• Sharon Moss, CVRD’s, manager of finance,   $102,872

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