THE BLOG

Fat City Hall Paycheques Leave Taxpayers in the Lurch

07/02/2013 09:37 EDT | Updated 09/01/2013 05:12 EDT
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Perhaps it will be a leisurely cruise along the French Riviera or something more adventurous like an expedition to Antarctica.

One thing is for certain though: Port Coquitlam's former chief administrative officer (CAO) Tony Chong won't be short of holiday destination possibilities after walking away with banked vacation pay estimated to be in the six figure range following his departure in 2012. Chong pocketed $429,566 last year after a 30-year career with the city.

And he won't be the only former municipal official perusing exotic travel brochures. Metro Vancouver's former policy and planning manager Toivo Allas cashed in his banked vacation pay last year following a 39-year career. He took home $523,000 in pay and benefits.

While Chong's vacation payout may have Port Coquitlam taxpayers seeing red, first consider that his salary in 2011 was $209,415, up $36,615 over his 2007 pay. Top top things off, Chong's salary was already on the low end of CAO salaries in Metro Vancouver.

At least 30 officials in the communities that make up Metro Vancouver earn a base salary that puts them among the top one per cent of all income earners in Canada. Seven employees at TransLink also join them.

Some argue it's what B.C. cities need to pay to keep their staff. Yet, the chief administrative officer of Halton Hills, Ontario manages to make ends meet on a $150,825 salary. Halton Hills is Canada's 88th largest community, Port Coquitlam its 89th.

Last year, the City of Calgary with its population of 1.12 million paid its city manager $324,000. Vancouver, with a population of 605,000, paid city manager Penny Ballem $366,000.

And the next time you're feeding a TransLink fare machine consider that TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis made $382,955 in 2011. Compare Jarvis' salary to the $282,700 Toronto Transit Commission Chief General Manager Gary Webster took home.

Just three illustrations that belie the well-worn argument, "if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys." A line that countless B.C. mayors fall back on when responding to shock and outcry over city hall pay packets.

One might almost think that it's one of the talking points supplied by the 800-strong Local Government Management Association of B.C.

In fact, CBC's Rick Mercer was one of the three keynote speakers at the Association's annual general meeting at Kelowna's Grand Okanagan Resort & Conference Centre last month. Suddenly feel the need to rant?

It's doubtful that those in attendance reached into their own pockets for the $550 early bird registration fee or for incidentals like travel and hotel (an extra ticket to the president's kick-off reception was $50).

It takes a lot of kahunas for some of these same civic officials to claim that their cupboards are bare when negotiating with unionized staff, while the cookie jar is overflowing for themselves.

And don't think that these cushy civic contracts are just a big city phenomenon.

In Lillooet, the CAO is paid $111,000 to keep a watchful eye over the district's 2,322 residents. His contract even contains a provision that requires the district to pick-up his legal fees in the event he decides to sue any of those aforementioned residents for defamation. And sued he has.

According to his contract, he and the district's foundation will split any booty that may come from those lawsuits. The CAO can use his share of the pot either "for a vacation or for reduction of employee personal debt."

Sechelt (population: 9,291) is now on its third CAO since the 2011 local election after the first -- who earned $141,780 that year -- was fired. The second quit after only six months on the job. Negotiated settlement packages with just two of the dismissed employees rang in at $255,000.

If you don't know what it's like to try and make ends meet on B.C.'s median family income of $66,970, chances are you can't empathize with what most see as waste at city hall or grandiose schemes by city administrators who likely will be long gone when it comes time to pick-up the tab.

It's easy to understand why there seems to be a disconnect between city administrators and ratepayers. After all when you earn $200,000 plus a year, you don't clip coupons.