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Metro vote gives more money to pols

Regional district gives departing members a pension should they choose not to run or lose in this fall's election
Belcarra Mayor Ralph Drew, left, and Coquitlam Coun. Terry O'Neill.

Being a Metro Vancouver board member just became a little more lucrative.

Last Friday, members of the regional district’s board voted in favour of implementing a new retirement allowance, essentially giving departing members a pension should they choose not to run or lose in this fall’s election.

And the change is retroactive to 2007 and would pay departing members a percentage of their annual Metro income for every year of service. 

A report stated that making the program retroactive will cost $498,000 and that going forward the initiative will cost Metro $62,500 per year.

Coquitlam Coun. Terry O’Neill, who was one of a few board members to vote against the amendment, said the changes caught him off guard. The item was a late addition to the agenda and he said he only heard about it last Thursday, the night before the vote.

“It was very easy for me to say no to this,” he told The Tri-City News yesterday. “This is not right.”

O’Neill, who as an alternate Metro board member was filling in for Mayor Richard Stewart, who is away on holiday, said the retroactive payment was particularly disconcerting.

“It is something you might want to debate going forward but what really stuck in my craw was that it goes all the way back to 2007,” he said. 

The pension change was part of a remuneration bylaw meant to address the federal government’s elimination of the non-taxable status for a third of board members’ income. In order to ensure that directors do not receive a pay cut as a result, Metro proposed increasing the stipend for board members to make up the difference.

But O’Neill said the retirement allowance and the non-taxable status issues were addressed in the same bylaw, meaning a board member could not vote in favour of one without voting for the other.

Fellow Coquitlam Coun. Brent Asmundson, who was filling in for regular Metro board member Coun. Craig Hodge, also raised his hand against the amendment.

But Belcarra Mayor Ralph Drew, who, at 37 years, is the longest-serving member of the Metro Vancouver board, defended the decision to implement retirement allowances.

He said that as a mayor of a small community, he does not receive the benefits of bigger-city councils, such as medical premiums and gas allowances. Drew added that he has all the same responsibilities and must attend the same number of meetings as a representative of a larger municipality but the pay is significantly lower. 

“People really have no idea of the time commitment for elected officials,” he told The Tri-City News. “Even my own councillors don’t appreciate how much time it takes as a mayor… The process is as every bit demanding without any sort of the recognition of the time involved.”

For a representative like Drew, the pension “would be pretty nominal,” working out to “under $1,000 a year,” he said. 

But calculating the allowance for individual Metro Vancouver members is difficult because their annual incomes vary depending on whether they are an alternate, a regular board member or a committee chair.

A board or committee member is paid $387 per meeting lasting less than four hours and $775 for a meeting longer than four hours. At the other end, the Metro Vancouver board chair, Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore, receives $77,474 per year while vice chair and Vancouver Coun. Raymond  Louie earns $38,737 per year.

The report attached to the bylaw amendment stated that six Metro Vancouver municipalities have some form of “retiring allowance once a council member no longer seeks re-election or is not re-elected,” including Vancouver and Surrey. The document also notes that members of Parliament and B.C. MLAs also receive pensions.