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LETTER: Fix is in on Victoria council pay

Task force examining salaries for Victoria council members should be more diverse
City staff are awaiting direction from the city to determine whether they should proceed with updating a bylaw that determines councillors’ salaries. (News files)

Victoria taxpayers are wondering if it's just a matter of time before councillors get their outrageous 25% pay hike this year.

Since the Task Force to Review Council Remuneration was struck April 4, appointees have been working quietly behind the scenes developing terms of reference, reviewing reports and conducting interviews with councillors.

The remuneration bylaw will be reconsidered by council on July 25, and so far it's not promising for taxpayers.

The current membership is too narrow and would benefit from additional voices and points of view. Perhaps someone who wasn't previously involved with the city as a councillor or city-paid advisor could take a fresh look at the facts from a human resource perspective. Perhaps a citizen-at-large/taxpayer should be appointed, someone who lives in the municipality or pays city property taxes who is sensitive to the local tax burden. Perhaps a representative from the chamber of commerce board, or someone with a legal background. There's expertise at the Gustavson School of Business at the University of Victoria.

The task force size is too limited. The city is a relatively large and unique jurisdiction. It often sets a standard for the region and province as a whole.

Most communities our size go with five or seven appointees, according to the UBCM guide. Kamloops, a much smaller city, appointed seven members.

Are there residential requirements?

Are current and future appointees required to be a direct taxpayer, either a residential property or commercial property owner in the city?

If not, why should someone else without a direct interest decide the employment terms of a council? Will this be stipulated as part of the terms of reference being developed?

Why such a strong union representation?

Union representation, particularly with one appointee representing a third of the task force, seems completely wrong. For goodness sake, it's a union workplace with a council that's sympathetic to unions and approves their contracts.

Appointing a longtime member of the union movement and a former president of the very large BCGEU, gives the appearance of conflict of interest, bias and potential future quid pro quo.

Lastly, another major concern is any appearance of conflict of interest between the appointees and the City of Victoria.

The Victoria Friendship Centre received about $40,000 in grant money from the City of Victoria (and deservedly continues to be a longtime recipient of a grant).

As well, it’s our understanding the organization receives three permissive tax exemptions from the city on several properties. In the eyes of the public, with all due respect to the appointees, all these issues seriously risk impacting the credibility of any task force recommendations.

The cart is before the horse.

Until a decision is made on whether councillors are a part or full-time position, this task force can't make a decision or recommendation on compensation. It's clearly not set up or equipped to do that.

For taxpayers, it looks like the fix is in.

Stan Bartlett, vice-chair
Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria