Port Coquitlam’s former highest-paid city staffer collected approximately $275,000 in banked vacation pay in addition to his six-figure salary, according to documents released last month.
Tony Chong, the city's former chief administration officer, received a $429,000 payout last year, most of which came from the hundreds of unused vacation days he accumulated over his 17-year term, Mayor Greg Moore told Coquitlam Now.
In April 2012, Chong stepped down from the lucrative position to pursue a career in the private sector. He now works as chief regulatory officer and deputy registrar at the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia.
Chong refused to comment about the payout he collected and directed questions to the city’s current chief administration officer John Leeburn.
“This is not necessarily Port Coquitlam-specific,” Leeburn told The Huffington Post B.C. “In our sector there are folks who have retired and have had banks not dissimilar to Mr. Chong.”
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Chong, like other public sector employees, was able to collect six-figure payouts from a combination of unused vacation days and “secondary leave in lieu of overtime” — retroactive pay entitlements accrued from unpaid overtime tallied from evening meetings and job-related weekend commitment claims.
“We don’t get paid overtime, but often there’s a week or two weeks of extra leave to reflect the many extra hours,” Leeburn said.
Chong was entitled to a month’s worth of paid vacation each year, according to Leeburn, Whether or not his vacation days were fully exhausted or supplemented significantly by secondary lieu claims is unknown. Leeburn confirmed that over Chong’s 17-year term, his vacation carryover payout roughly equated to 15 months of work.
When broken down into an average 40-hour-week schedule, Chong earned roughly $114 (before taxes) for each hour of vacation and time-in-lieu he claimed.
“What happens in Port Coquitlam is not unusual,” said Leeburn.
In 2010, the city tightened its rules to restrict the number of carryover vacation days Port Coquitlam city employees could claim. These policy rules differ among Metro Vancouver municipalities.
“It’s one of those holdovers from a previous way of doing business. It’s an example of how these entitlements ran out of control,” said B.C. director of Canadian Taxpayers Jordan Bateman.
Chong is in good company among other high-paid municipal employees. In 2011, Chong was one of 29 individuals on the city's payroll who earned six-figure salaries, according to city financial documents. The mayor earned $93,419.31.
As Leeburn stressed, high salaries and payouts aren’t unique to Port Coquitlam.
Last year, Vancouver city manager Penny Bellam earned $366,009, according to municipal Statement of Financial Information files. Her compensation is inclusive of overtime, vacation, and bonuses, putting her annual salary higher than Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s $320,400, according to Postmedia.
“It’s a reminder to municipal councils that they have to get these things under control or it’s going to keep costing taxpayers more and more money,” Bateman said.
Concern about the public purse and rising municipal wages has also triggered a new review of Metro Vancouver employees’ salaries and payouts, reports The Vancouver Sun. It’s a move that has been applauded by some taxpayers, but which has left others jaded.
“It’s nice to talk the talk,” Bateman says. “I’d like to see them walk the walk for once.”