Being a councillor: “labour of love”

Terrace released its statement of financial information, the public can now see what locally elected officials and city staff were paid

The City of Terrace released its statement of financial information (SOFI) recently, so members of the public now have a chance to see what locally elected officials and city staff were paid in 2012.

All six Terrace councillors earned $11,983.40 in 2012, one third of that tax free, and averaged $4,301 each in expenses (mainly conference travel costs). Mayor David Pernarowski earned $31,202.60 and spent $5,764.30 on expenses.

With the annual cost of living allowance added councillors will earn $12,229 in 2013.

Councillor James Cordeiro said it is difficult to calculate exactly how much this remuneration works out to per hour because of intangibles such as spontaneous discussions with citizens in public places, but figures he spends 20-30 hours per week including conferences and travel time.

“It works out to about $7.75 to $11 per hour depending on the month,” Cordeiro said, “but I don’t favour raising council pay at this time.”

Bruce Bidgood and Marylin Davies also said that working out exact hours is nearly impossible, but that basic job details for council meetings and committees would be 10-15 hours a week.

Work time also varies from councillor to councillor, with Brian Downie having by far the largest workload according to Davies.

Councillors work day jobs or live on pensions to support what former city councillor Carol Leclerc called a labour of love.

“I know I put in a lot of time and I wasn’t retired. I’d be doing two to seven meetings a week. You don’t do it for the money. If you’re in it for the money you are in it for the wrong reason.”

Leclerc said that Terrace’s remuneration for city councillors is low compared to other cities because there isn’t a big industrial tax base compared to other towns in the north.

“We don’t have an industry tax base like what Kitimat and Prince Rupert have. For that reason I think they are a bit higher than Terrace.”

“When you don’t have the tax base it’s really hard to ask the tax payer and business owner for a pay increase when they are already providing most of the revenue for the budget anyway,” Leclerc said.

Cordeiro agrees that being a city councillor is a labour of love, and wonders if lower pay might make it difficult for people of more modest means to ever run for council, keeping the reins of power in the hands of those with enough money to support their civic pursuits.

Councillors’ pay is set according to a bylaw, and any increase has to go through an official vote and have support  within the community.

According to city of Terrace   corporate administrator Alisa Thompson the pay isn’t solely based on revenue.

“The council’s remuneration is not directly tied to revenues; the salaries are only based on the city’s revenues in a general philosophical sense,” she said.

According to councillor Bidgood, the same task force that decided to raise pay for the mayor’s office in 2011 also recommended that a review should be done for councillor pay before this term  is over.

A record of what mayor and council pay in property tax was also made available recently upon request.

Mayor Dave Pernarowski’s tax burden is dropping from $1,661 to $1,609; Marilyn Davies’ is descending from $1,887 to $1,853; while Brian Downie’s will level off at $1,642, down from $1,661 in 2012.

Trending upwards are the municipal property taxes paid by Bruce Bidgood and James Cordeiro. Bidgood will be paying $1,730 in 2013 compared to $1,624 in 2012 and Cordeiro’s will rise to $1,700 from $1,611.

“For council members whose property taxes went down, this is an indication of lower than average assessments. For further clarity, the City has no control over individual assessments and hence, council cannot influence their own tax bills,” Director of Finance Ron Bowles said.