Metro Vancouver board chair Greg Moore is mayor of Port Coquitlam.

Metro takes hard look at management pay levels

Regional district's new CAO leading wage review, restructuring

Metro Vancouver is conducting an extensive review of salaries for all management staff to determine if their pay levels are appropriate.

It comes as the regional district released annual financial disclosures showing it paid out $142 million in pay and benefits to employees last year.

Metro paid 369 employees more than $100,000 last year and some Metro directors have questioned whether pay levels are too high.

Chief administrative officer Carol Mason, who is leading the pay review as well as an ongoing restructuring at Metro, said the regional government is overdue for such an exercise.

It last did one in 2008 but has a policy of reassessing pay levels every three years.

“My early impression is I wouldn’t say we are overstaffed, but that’s part of the process we are going through,” Mason said.

Salaries and duties for Metro’s non-union staff are being compared against similar positions in local cities over the next several months.

Mason has ordered a freeze on new hiring until the review is complete.

Metro board chair Greg Moore said the aim is to “ensure we’re not too high or too low in the pay bands we have compared to other equivalent-type employment.”

A finding that pay levels are too high and need to be decreased would be “very difficult” to apply to current staff who would likely be grandfathered, he said.

In the past BC Hydro has poached many Metro engineers, putting upward pressure on those salaries to stay competitive.

Local cities are also routinely raiding staff from each other or from Metro.

North Vancouver District Mayor Richard Walton said his city lost five newly hired planning department staff to offers of higher pay from cities south of the Fraser almost immediately after they were trained.

“We were actually paying the training costs and other communities were immediately benefitting from the result,” Walton said, adding the loss slowed building permit approval times in North Van District.

Consulting firms and other cities, including ones in Alberta, are the main expected competitors who will be headhunting more Metro staffers in the years ahead.

The financial disclosures show last year’s highest payout of $523,000 went to retired policy and planning manager Toivo Allas, but included an unusual payout of banked holiday time accrued over four decades.

Mason, who took over as CAO last fall after longtime CAO Johnny Carline retired, earns $270,000 a year.

Deputy CAO Delia Laglagaron’s remuneration of $311,000 last year was unusually high because she was performing extra duties as acting CAO for most of the year.

The highest paid managers at Metro are water services general manager Tim Jervis at $218,000; external relations director Heather Schoemaker at $208,000; corporate services general manager Ralph Hildebrand at $196,000; liquid waste services general manager Simon Ho at $185,000; and acting chief financial officer Phil Trotzuk at $173,000.

There’s been a major turnover in management in the past year.

Besides Carline, former chief financial officer Jim Rusnak and planning, parks and environment manager Gaetan Royer both left as part of administrative restructuring.

According to disclosures, severance payouts were made to five management employees in 2012 for between one and 15 months’ pay.

Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation B.C. director Jordan Bateman said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the review, but added pay reviews at government agencies sometimes come back recommending “raises for everyone.”

He said Metro’s pay grid looks too high, noting CAO Mason makes more than provincial government deputy ministers, who earn around $230,000.

Bateman said no politician is directly accountable to voters for how the regional district spends taxpayer dollars. Mayors and councillors serve as Metro directors but tend to be mainly focused on their own cities.

He said Metro has “grown out of control” over the years, adding social housing and culture offerings that go well beyond the regional district’s core mandate of dealing with drinking water, sewage, garbage and perhaps regional parks.

Bateman said complaints of inter-city poaching of key staff among Metro’s 21 member municipalities suggests amalgamating some of them would be more efficient.

“You wonder if you’d have as much problems if you had six or eight larger municipalities instead of a whole bunch of smaller ones competing with each other and driving up prices.”

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