Greg NesteroffWest Kootenay Advertiser
The Regional District of Central Kootenay’s payroll in 2013 was larger than three of its neighbours, but Regional District of Kootenay Boundary residents paid the most per capita.
And while their populations are very similar, Central Kootenay’s $9.3 million wage tab was more than twice that of the Regional District of East Kootenay. RDCK chair John Kettle explained it’s because they provide many more services than East Kootenay — about 160 in all, including parks, water systems, fire departments, and building inspection.
But the largest single expense is recreation: the RDCK operates rec complexes in Nelson, Castlegar, and Creston, whereas in East Kootenay, municipalities provide most of those services.
(However, the City of Cranbrook has asked the East Kootenay regional district to consider establishing a joint recreation commission. Presently Cranbrook taxpayers pay $3.9 million of the $5 million annual operating cost of the city’s recreation facilities. The rest comes from user fees.)
Kettle also noted the East Kootenay is home to many more part-time residents. Although that presents certain challenges, he called non-resident taxation a “huge benefit. Many residents only use facilities three months a year, but pay for 12.” As a result, Kettle said, East Kootenay can afford to accept household garbage at its landfills for free, while the RDCK charges $2.50 per bag.
Kettle said his board works with senior managers to determine staffing.
“Directors are responsible for making sure we don’t load [employees] up with an incredible amount of work. But I don’t think there’s any desire to continue to expand staffing,” he said.
Although the board has created some new positions in recent years, it has declined others, such as a deputy regional fire chief.
Kettle suggested pay scales are “due for a review” and that in setting them, a community’s “prevailing wage” should be a factor.
“My argument is we’re leaving out one common denominator,” he said. “We never look at the communities where the taxation is derived. In Creston the prevailing wage is $15.50 an hour.
“There is a sense that if you work with government you get paid more. Your benefits package is huge compared to the private sector. At some point that has to balance out with people paying. I don’t think we can continue unabated with increases.”
Kettle said there has been some discussion of an overall review of salaries, including those paid to directors, which he will recommend be brought forward at year’s end.
While the RDCK’s payroll was bigger than East Kootenay’s overall, the two had a similar number of high-end earners.
Meanwhile, the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary’s payroll of $7.1 million was smaller than the RDCK’s, but its per capita costs were higher at $228 versus $159. It also had more than twice the number of employees earning over $75,000, at 29, and more than three times as many earning over $100,000, at 17.
That was largely due to the fact Kootenay Boundary Fire Rescue, which serves all of Greater Trail, is a regional district service. Its headquarters is staffed by 14 career firefighters, a secretary/dispatcher and up to ten paid on-call firefighters. Four of the regional district’s top five earners last year were firefighters, with salaries ranging from $114,500 to $127,500.
RDKB chair Grace McGregor said comparing regional districts directly is difficult.
“You’d have to pick services that are identical and that’s virtually impossible,” she said. “It depends on the area, the assessment, and how big it is. It’s hard to do a true comparison.”
Generally, however, she said the greater the number of services, the greater the number of staff.
The neighbouring Regional District of Columbia Shuswap had lower payroll and per capita costs at $3.3 million and $65 than any of the three Kootenay regional districts.
— With files from Craig Lindsay and Arne Petryshen