By MEL ROTHENBURGER
Director, Electoral Area P, TNRD
Sometimes politicians forget to think like taxpayers.
Take Thursday’s meetings of the Thompson Regional Hospital District board and the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board, for example.
At both meetings, the issue of pay raises for directors came up. The proposal for regional hospital district directors was that meeting stipends be increased from $160 to $170, reflecting the Consumer Price Index.
At the meeting of the regional district board that followed, I made a similar motion that no increases be accepted by TNRD directors this year. The reasons I gave included the fact that we need to continue showing leadership and proving to the public we’re worthy of their confidence, and that includes holding the line on our own paycheques.
I pointed out that in 2019 the board had approved 19 per cent pay increases for rural directors and 11 per cent for municipal directors. (By the way, I have donated my increase to charities and local community projects.)
In 2020, I proposed that directors take a pay cut to show leadership during the pandemic. That was handily shot down. In 2021, as the spending controversy raged, the board declined to take an increase.
I said the Bearfoot Bistro (and the big bill for dinner for some of the directors during a Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Whistler) was still very much on the public’s mind.
Most directors disagreed with my opinion. Director Ronaye Elliott commented, “We are still trying to make up for something that we didn’t do,” adding that young people are discouraged from running because electoral area directors don’t get paid enough.
Director Steve Quinn said, “Let it be an election issue.”
Arjun Singh said the board should be proud of the progress it’s made on spending controls. His fellow City director Dale Bass, however, said she still hears from people who are concerned about TNRD spending.
Nine directors of the 25 present voted in favour of not taking an increase. The result is that a stipend increase of 2.8 per cent and a committee meeting rate of $170 go into effect. Rural directors will now be paid $25,256 annually and municipal directors $15,135.
The board’s policy on directors’ expenses also came up. On this one, I moved that a proposal from the policy committee to allow directors attending conferences to go out and buy a meal, then bill for it if they don’t like the food that’s already been paid for through registration fees, be removed.
At the earlier policy committee meeting, some directors had complained that convention food often isn’t very good and that they should be able to buy a meal somewhere else. Others had concerns about dietary needs.
My argument against it is that the taxpayers end up paying twice. Perhaps somewhat undiplomatically, I suggested directors who are unhappy with convention food should “suck it up.”
Director Ward Stamer, the mayor of Barriere, objected to “the innuendo that we’re not being responsible enough.”
To be fair, Thursday’s debate focused more on what to do about directors with special dietary needs than on the quality of food, which had dominated the committee discussion. Director Barbara Roden of Ashcroft proposed an amendment to my amendment that special dietary needs be eligible for an exception to what I was suggesting.
That amendment was approved, and then my amendment, as amended, was also approved with 14 directors voting in favour.
My comments here might not make me especially popular with some of my fellow directors but it’s the details that taxpayers often take as a sign of how politicians think. The CPI raise is small but we should always be aware of the signals we’re sending.
In my view, we weren’t thinking like taxpayers on this one.
Mel Rothenburger is the Director for Electoral Area P. He was elected in 2014 and re-elected in 2018.
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