PORT McNEILL—Near the end of last week’s special meeting, Port McNeill council approved its 2014 budget.
Well before the vote, though, they commenced the spending.
First, council unanimously approved a pay raise for itself and the mayor that brings Port McNeill from the lowest-paid council to the median compensation amount for communities of its size in British Columbia.
It also unanimously approved funding for two summer student positions at the cash-strapped Visitors’ Information Centre, one of them to be funded through collection of the hotel bed tax.
Finally, council was presented the Town’s 2013 financial statements and was addressed by the auditor in what turned into a lengthy and wide-ranging session between its regularly scheduled monthly meetings.
The pay raise for mayor and council is the first for Port McNeill since 2001, and came following a summary presented by treasurer Dan Rodin.
Rodin noted an updated compensation bylaw had been prepared in 2005 but never adopted, and that council in 2011 enlisted an independent committee, “which determined council was woefully underpaid, by about 200 per cent,” he said. “For whatever reason, nothing was done.”
Prior to last week’s passage of the new Compensation, Reimbursement and Expense Bylaw, the mayor received $7,500 per year and councillors $4,800. The next-lowest compensation for a municipality of similar size was Highlands, at $10,000 for mayor and $6,000 for councillors — and the median figure across the province was essentially double Port McNeill’s pay.
The matter of council reimbursement had been caught in a Catch-22 for nearly a decade, Coun. Shirley Ackland noted, with sitting councils deferring the matter to the next group of elected officials and new councils unwilling to be seen as raiding the Town coffers for their own benefit.
“We’ve struggled with this,” said Ackland, who also served on the previous council which formed the community committee to examine the compensation issue. “Part of the rationale for putting something in place for an incoming council was, one, that it would look like we weren’t giving ourselves a raise. But councillors that are just coming in are likewise loathe to decide the first thing they’re going to do is give themselves a raise.”
Rodin provided council with an extensive written report, expounding on information gathered by the 2011 committee, and it was convinced to stop the treadmill of shoving to contentious issue on to the next council — which will be elected this fall.
“The burden on our council was given to us about three months in,” said Coun. Grant Anderson, a first-term councillor. “I don’t know that we want to put that burden on the next council. If Dan is correct in saying we want to be fair to people who are trying to help the community, this is a no brainer. It has to happen and it has to happen as soon as possible.
With the federal summer student funding program shutting its tap in Port McNeill and other Vancouver Island communities, president David Mitchell of the Port McNeill and District Chamber of Commerce submitted a request for funding of two full-time student staffing positions at the Town’s Visitor’s Information Centre from June through August.
“The summer student program has provided us up to $12,000, and the loss of that $12,000 is huge to us,” said Mitchell. “The Chamber’s been subsidizing the VIC for years, and this puts our already tenuous budget in dire straits.”
The visitors’ centre maintains a paid manager, but with upwards of 11,000 visitors pouring through its doors during the peak summer season, Mitchell said, the full-time student assistants are critical to its functioning.
In an extended debate, council tried to find alternatives to the staffing shortage, including sharing summer student employees already committed to jobs with the Town.
“We’re nit-picking,” said Coun. Anderson. “They need help; let’s give it to them.”
Mitchell had asked for a Town contribution of $5,500 to pay for one student employee at the centre, but Coun. Gaby Wickstrom submitted a motion to fund one position from the Town’s budget and contribute $5,700 for a second employee by applying the Town’s portion of the Hotel Room Tax. Last year the tax generated $5,606 for Port McNeill, which holds another $879 in the HRT account balance.
Council unanimously approved the motion pending approval on the hotel tax portion by the Port McNeill Tourism Steering Committee. Wickstrom, who sits on the committee, reported that approval the following day.