Baby mergers might work among region's fiefdoms
Carolyn Heiman, Columnist
July 30, 2008
Over the last few weeks we've been taking snapshots of the costs to keep 13 municipal councils and administrations ticking along.
Judging from my e-mail, and other commentary, the figures have struck a chord with readers, many who are perplexed that the fractured governance structure in the region has survived into the 21st century. Others argue there would be no cost savings by having fewer municipalities but greater efficiencies and better planning, something I think is true. A few comment they like it the way it is, worrying that amalgamation will turn us into Toronto. The region has about the same population as Surrey so this comparison is an exaggeration.
Two people, who have moved from other parts of Canada, asked for a Capital Regional muni 101 course, hoping to make sense of it all in less than 250 words. This is not possible.
Given the open contempt many of the region's politicians have for each other, it's unlikely 13 municipalities will join forces in the short run. Or voluntarily.
But within the 13, there are municipalities with much in common. Baby mergers could start a move toward efficiencies and better regional planning areas including transportation, emergency preparedness and growth.
The core municipalities -- Victoria, Saanich, Oak Bay, Esquimalt, and possibly View Royal -- would work better as one. The area would be eligible for more federal funding in areas such as affordable housing which is linked to population. Victoria proper has 78,057 people living here and federal support reflects that. It could be a different picture if the core population of 231,481 was considered.
The three on the Peninsula -- Central and North Saanich and Sidney -- have synergies and a surprising number of writers e-mailed to say they would be best merged. One candidate for mayor in North Saanich, Sean McNulty, is campaigning on the issue. Incumbent Mayor Ted Daly said he tried the issue with the electorate when he first ran in a byelection in 1998 and blames his failure on mentioning the A word. After a later success at the polls, he promised he wouldn't bring it up again, but is rethinking that.
Many of the Western Communities share interests and should be sharing administration and governance as well. One can debate how big the marriage should be -- just Colwood or Langford -- or larger. But two would be a good start. Not all marriages have to be perfect to work.
Fewer municipalities would please business owners who have to buy multiple business licences to operate in different municipalities. Homeowners would find it easier to grasp local bylaws that often come in many different flavours on the same issue. Imagine the dancing among the cultural and social agencies if they didn't have to go cap in hand to 13 council meetings for a small handout.
But back to part three on the 2007 public bodies reports that municipalities file with the province by the end of June. Langford and Colwood still haven't, so it may be September before we can complete part four.
Council and top administration costs in Sooke, Metchosin, Highlands and View Royal are considered here. The total population of the four areas is 25,170; the number of property taxpayers far less. The total amount paid for the top administrators at those municipalities is $421,967. Sooke and View Royal are the only two with administrators paid more than $100,000. Metchosin ducked the provincial filing requirement to claim anyone paid over $75,000 because technically it paid its administrator $115,994 as a contractor -- not paid as an employee.
Remuneration and expenses paid out to 24 politicians serving those four municipalities was close to $300,000 in 2007 including sums collected for sitting on the Capital Regional District board. Highlands, with a population of 1,903 has seven councillors. View Royal with 8,768 has five. Why there is this difference is another mystery of 13 municipalities.
Following are highlights of salaries and expenses from small rural municipalities plus View Royal:
Highlands, Population 1,903
Mayor Mark Cardinal: $10,000 plus $8,264 for being on the capital region board. Both sums include a one-third tax-free portion. Expenses: $2,216
Individual council member salaries: $6,000
Top-spending councillor: Ken Williams $2,324.95
Lowest expenses: Ken Brotherston, Andrew Fall, Joe Kadar, Jane Mendum $0
Metchosin, Population 4,795
Mayor John Ranns: $16,144 plus $8,264 for being on the capital region board. Both sums include a one-third tax-free portion. Expenses: $0 billed to Metchosin but $563 claimed at the CRD
Individual council member salaries: $9,416 (Note) Colleen Brownlee remunerated less -- $5,622 -- as she replaced John Webb who died in March.
Top-spending councillor: Kyara Kahakauwila $6,034
Lowest expenses: Bob Gramigna, Jo Mitchell, Webb and Brownlee $0
Sooke, Population 9,704
Mayor Janet Evans: $17,004 plus $8,264 for being on the capital region board. Both sums include a one-third tax-free portion. Expenses: $5,195 plus $2,475 from the CRD
Individual council member salaries: $8,502
Top-spending councillor: Sheila Beech $6,444
Lowest expenses: Jen Smith $178
View Royal - Population 8,768
Mayor Graham Hill $19,380 plus $8,264 for being on the capital region board. Both sums include a one-third tax-free portion. Expenses: $4,949 plus $1,147 from the CRD
Individual council member salaries: $9,894
Top-spending councillor David Screech at $1,552
Lowest expenses: Geri Anderson $606
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