City of Nanaimo salaries debated at e-town hall meeting

NANAIMO – City council held a forum Monday at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre to have conversations about the core services review.

Nanaimo citizens spoke up at an e-town hall forum to ask council to try to keep city salaries low and service levels high.

Nanaimo council held the meeting Monday at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre in order to have conversations about the core services review, which was received this past spring.

Citizens were encouraged to submit questions over a range of platforms on any of the subjects raised in the core review. A concern that was brought up more than once was city salaries, including union contracts.

Coun. Jim Kipp pointed to the review’s findings that municipal wages have increased 51 per cent over the past 10 years and he said that’s not sustainable.

“We have to do a way better job of bargaining, a way better job,” he said. “When I see these increases that much and when I see lack of performance evaluations, lack of review, we need to be stronger.”

Coun. Bill Bestwick said he thinks wages and benefits are fair, but believes they need to be capped. He noted that $100,000-per-year jobs put those workers in B.C.’s top-five percentile.

“I’d like us to stop throwing those numbers around like they’re just common, everyday numbers, because they’re not, to 95 per cent of the population…” he said. “We have to start thinking about how those numbers increase on an annual basis so that we can maintain the same services that we have. We have to.”

Coun. Wendy Pratt said city workers’ salaries allow them to be able to raise a family, and mentioned that health care and school district employees, for example, also make good union wages.

Union negiotiators are good at what they do, added Coun. Gord Fuller.

“You’ve got to give the unions credit for getting their people where they’re at today and wanting to keep them there,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Coun. Ian Thorpe, who chaired the meeting in place of an absent Mayor Bill McKay, said in general, citizens are well-served by city workers, both union and non-union.

“This council will be acting very, very responsibly when it comes to negotiating with any employee group and doing what we can to come to a fair deal – fair for the workers and fair for the citizens of Nanaimo who pay the taxes,” Thorpe said.

Also discussed at the e-town hall were city services. Council was asked to justify reductions in services as the city budget increases.

“There are a handful of recommendations that do directly relate to service levels and I can assure everybody that when those come before us, they will be debated in a very fulsome manner,” Thorpe said. “But the whole intent of the core review was not to cut service levels or slash and burn … It was to find efficiencies.”

Coun. Bill Yoachim said that’s how he views the purpose of the document.

“There’s enough there to do more and we could be better with our dollar…” he said, adding he’d like to see the city “actually implement more services for children, youth and families, but also, in my view, a demographic that is also grossly neglected for services is the elderly.”

One of the core review’s recommended service cuts is Beban Pool and a three-month annual closure of the facility. City council fielded a few comments on the subject, and Bestwick said he would love to see a brand-new swimming pool in the city.

“I would much rather see us invest hundreds of thousands of dollars a year that we spend on repair and maintenance on a new facility,” he said. “It might just be a swimming pool and it might just be at Beban Park and it might just be in the north end … I don’t know where; that’s for another conversation.”

The core services review will remain an agenda item at every upcoming city council meeting as councillors continue to consider all recommendations.