CVRD board ties some staff pay increases to CPI

The Cowichan Valley Regional District board has moved to curb pay increases to its top non-union staffers.

This follows significant public criticism over the salaries of senior employees at the regional district, and how much they have increased.

"For some people the salaries are always going to be too high," said board chair Jon Lefebure, though he said he hopes the change will help the public perception.

Last year, the district paid consultant Julie Case to look at CVRD policy, then present the findings to a special committee struck to look into the matter.

The committee came back to the board with recommendations to leave the process of how salaries are reached as-is. That process includes looking at comparators – other local governments of similar size, who are competing to hire such employees – and shooting to remain in the middle in terms of what the CVRD pays.

Raises were determined by matching those given to union employees at the CVRD.

"It is a very common practice," CAO Brian Carruthers told the directors when the subject came up for discussion at a meeting in February.

Those who did not support leaving the salary process the way it is argued that there needs to be some kind of tie not just to what comparable salaries are in other local governments, but to what people in the community are making.

Dir. Sonia Furstenau pointed out that the median salary in the Cowichan Valley is $38,000, and said that there should be an obligation "to really take into account the people who are paying these wages."

It was suggested tying pay raises to the Consumer Price Index could be a way to help do that.

While the method of hiring staff and determining their place on the existing CVRD wage scale will remain the same, calculation of raises will change.

A unanimous vote by the board last week will see significant changes made to the Exempt Staff Compensation Policy.

Wording that "General wage increases for exempt staff are the same as those provided to the CVRD’s unionized and nonunion employees, as well as to elected officials. These increases are determined through the process of collective bargaining with our Unions" will be replaced with "That Exempt Staff inclusive of the Chief Administrative Officer, General Managers and Division

Managers receive annual wage increases determined by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for Victoria; and that a minimum 0.0 per cent increase be applied where the CPI falls below 0.0 per cent and a cap of 2.0 per cent where the CPI exceeds 2.0 per cent annually; and that all other exempt staff positions maintain the existing policy of providing the same annual general wage percentage increase as union employees".

Though regular raises will now be tied to CPI, Lefebure explained that they are still going to review staff’s salaries every three years, looking at where those numbers sit versus comparators (other municipal and regional governments of similar size).

He defended what some in the public see as overly-generous salaries for the CVRD’s top staff.

"We are all faced with the reality that we are competing to fill these positions with other local governments," he said. With salaries set to be in the middle of what’s offered by others, "we really count on being a desirable place to live to attract good people."

Getting good people into the top staff positions at the CVRD is vital, Lefebure said, because those people have to make decisions, many of which can save a lot of money over time.

"Having good professional advice is critical," he said. "It’s an investment that we make for the good of the community."

It’s important to note that there isn’t an excess of people qualified to fill the positions, Lefebure said.

Cowichan Valley Citizen