On Jan. 23 the board voted to have our CAO strike an independent task force to review the way that SCRD directors are paid. I’ve been agitating about this since before I was elected, and here’s why.
The Responsibilities and Expectations have Grown
There was a time when being a rural director was a part-time commitment that you could squeeze in around your full or part-time job, or take up as a retirement hobby, but those days are gone. Compared to 20 or 30 years ago, SCRD directors have a much bigger workload. Some of the reasons:
- The organization, its budget, and the services delivered have grown dramatically
- Agendas are far longer and more involved, requiring hours of reading and preparation
- Government regulations are far more complex
- The public has higher expectations for consultation and communication
- We are facing unprecedented challenges, including water supply and landfill closure, and the impacts of climate change
Rural Directors Face a Big Workload
In addition to preparing for and attending board meetings, we are the only local elected representative for our areas, so people turn to us for help with a lot of problems. I’d say I put about 20 hours a week into:
- Answering email, phone calls and in person inquiries
- Following up with SCRD staff on residents’ issues
- Supporting the Area Planning Commission
- Preparing for and attending community association meetings and public meetings on issues such as water and sewer
- Attending or chairing public hearings
- Representing the SCRD on other boards (e.g. fire commission, library, chamber of commerce)
- Working with the Town of Gibsons and other local governments
- Advocating with senior government over problems like stormwater, road maintenance and marine debris
- Doing background research on a wide range of issues
- Keeping the community informed via my newsletter, website and social media
- Participating in community events
Our Pay is Confusing and Inconsistent
SCRD directors receive a muddled mix of stipends and per meeting pay. I earn:
- Base pay of $186.40/week ($9700/year)
- Rural Director stipend of $26.69/week ($1360/year)
- Standing Committee Chair stipend of $29.16/week ($1500/yr)
- Per meeting pay of $135 per meeting or $158 per day of conference. If the meeting goes over 3 hours we are paid double.
The issues that really concern me are:
- Wildly Erratic Income – Every pay cheque is completely different. I can’t predict what I will earn from week to week; nor can the SCRD budget accurately. If somebody asks “what does a director earn?” I can’t give a straight answer because there isn’t one. Historically, it has varied a lot.
- Perverse Incentives – Being paid by the meeting (and double for more than 3 hours) means that directors are incentivized to hold more and longer meetings, and disincentivized to respond to constituents in rural areas. This is nuts. (Besides, most of the work for a meeting is preparation and follow-up, so paying double for a longer meeting makes no sense.)
- Rural Directors are Under Compensated – My constituency work takes about 20 hours/week at a pay of approx. $1 hour. Municipal directors do not have those extra responsibilities. They receive 95% of the same pay for 50% of the work.
- Average people can’t afford to run for office – The living wage for Sunshine Coast is currently pegged at $19.25, or $40,000/year. If we want to attract a wide cross section of the community, not just the wealthy and retirees with big pensions, we need to make the job possible. Not lucrative, just within reach.
In 2019, the new board held more meetings than usual because of training and strategic planning, and we also went to more conferences than usual to learn the ropes. I’d estimate that our average total earnings were around $30,000, though in past years it’s been closer to $24,000.
Is this the right amount? I’ll leave that up to the task force to determine. What I do know is that I can afford to be a Director because I’m mortgage and child free, live frugally, and have enough set aside that I don’t have to live from paycheque to paycheque.
My last words…
The board at the SCRD is in charge of a budget of over $50 million, and public assets in the hundreds of millions. And we are paid less than the lowest paid employee in the organization. It feels weird, it really does.
The Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) has developed a Guide to Council and Board Remuneration that is being used as a basis for the SCRD review. This is a good, sensible document outlining the issues and recommending best practices around remuneration for elected officials.