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Strathcona Regional District board votes for compensation status quo

Rural directors feel consultant’s report does not reflect their role
Area C Director Jim Abram and other electoral directors raised questions about a recent remuneration report at a recent board meeting. File photo/Campbell River Mirror

It was a long way to get back to the status quo for the Strathcona Regional District board following a lengthy discussion about reviewing compensation for its directors.

In the end, with some of the board members questioning assumptions in a new consultant’s report, the board passed a motion to maintain the status quo, at least until a review by the new board in 2019.

Consultant Paul McKivett had appeared before the board Aug. 15 to outline the report from James R. Craven and Associates. The document, as the consultant stated, relied on a “market” approach in examining the SRD versus other regional districts. This can include factors of size, budget and functions. McKivett acknowledged up front that views on remuneration were not unanimous from his consultations with SRD board members this year.

“I think it was clear there is a divergence of opinion on the board about remuneration and what it stands for,” he said.

The report includes recommendations to amend the current bylaw to add reference to a “market” of several regional districts, which are all on the mainland.

Some board members, particularly directors representing electoral areas, took exception to the methodology, saying their workloads were not adequately represented. One criticism was the reliance on regional districts outside of Vancouver Island as a market comparison.

“I see it as rather a shallow report. I think it’s based on faulty assumptions,” Area A Director Gerald Whalley said.

He questioned the reliance on population figures as a comparison, saying it does not determine the size of the workload for directors.

“It’s just not proportionate to population,” he said. “Population has nothing to do with it.”

Whalley said a similar geographic location might provide a better market comparison – for example, Comox-Strathcona, which, like the SRD, has islands within its jurisdiction, and has similar issues.

“These regional districts, way up in the Interior, they have very little in common with us,” he added.

His concerns were echoed by other electoral directors.

“I hope you won’t take it personally,” Area C Director Jim Abram said. “I think this whole market-level concept is absurd.”

He suggested not spending any resources to come up with information the board could have come up with on its own through the Union of British Columbia Municipalities.

With federal government changes coming that will remove a tax-exempt portion of local government pay from federal taxes, many local governments – including Campbell River’s – and regional districts have been reviewing pay structure.

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At times, the discussion seemed to break down along the lines of electoral directors versus municipal representatives, though Ron Kerr, one of the Campbell River directors, struck a more conciliatory tone, saying he sympathized with the situations his colleagues representing electoral areas face.

“They have a different responsibility, a different pressure,” he said. “I think it is not acknowledged in this report.”

As well, the report suggests a possible increase for the position of vice-chair, which the board considered in light of plans to increase the responsibilities of the position. There was debate, however, around when this should happen in light of the pending elections this fall. Others suggested there were too many details to clarify, so a review should wait until next year. There were contrary opinions around details such as when a next review would be, who would conduct it or whether they could exclude a reference to vice-chair pay in a motion to maintain current compensation.

“We do have a lengthy agenda, and we’re getting into minutiae and this is getting ridiculous,” Andy Adams, Campbell River’s mayor and one of its directors, said after approximately 45 minutes of discussion.

In the end, a majority of board voted to maintain the current bylaw for director compensation, with an exception made for the vice-chair. Directors Adams, Julie Colborne, Charlie Cornfield, Larry Samson and Brad Unger opposed this motion.

A subsequent motion calling for an in-house review to be done next year passed as well, with directors Adams, Michele Babchuk, Brenda Leigh and Samson opposing.