City councillors uncomfortable discussing benefits package

Penticton Councillor Judy Sentes, Councillor Andre Martin and Councillor Max Picton were central to discussions about councillor benefits during the Monday March 16 council meeting in Penticton.

PENTICTON - Penticton councillors found it difficult to talk about paid benefits for themselves at the Monday March 16 meeting, but managed to get over it.

“I think we tend to tiptoe around this whole conversation about compensation and benefits." Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said. "We have to deal with this now, within the first three months of office.” 

The mayor noted that council was largely made up of self-employed business people who didn’t have their own coverage, adding benefits could be an enticement to help attract quality people to future councils.

“To me this makes sense to do and I’d like to see us moving forward on that,” he said.

City of Penticton Human Resources Manager Gillian Kenny offered council three funding options:  through the labour load budget, through the elected officials in-town expense budget, or a 50 per cent funding through the labour load budget with councillors picking up the tab for the remaining 50 per cent.

Thirty other cities were researched, Kenny said, of which 10 had part time mayors and of those, only two provided extended benefits. The majority of full time mayors in the Lower Mainland did receive medical and dental benefits, including B.C. medical plan benefits, she said.

Council discussions centred around the fully funded or partially funded options, with Councillor Andre Martin putting forward a motion for councillors to pick up 75 per cent of the cost.

Picton asked if there were any budget implications from funding the benefit plan, to which he was told a fully funded plan would cost the city $14,000. A plan funded at 50 per cent would cost $7,000 annually.

Councillor Judy Sentes agreed with the mayor’s comments.

“It’s no secret, as a councillor, my T-4 slip was well under $20,000, so I think this little bit of something is appropriate,” she said.

She suggested the staff recommendation of a 50-50 split.

Councillor Picton said he was “more or less in the same boat as Councillor Sentes.”

“I’d be more inclined with the 50-50, I honestly don’t think it would be unreasonable to go with the full load, my own personal thoughts on this, a lot of personal sacrifice is made, to take  this position on, missed opportunity for our own personal careers and job opportunities,” Picton said, saying he would vote against the 75-25.

Acting City Manager Chuck Loewen noted funding for either option would not be an issue this year, based on savings the city is accruing from present staff vacancies.

Mayor Jakubeit noted there wouldn’t be a discussion around the issue if council were talking about management or staff benefits, saying council tended to tiptoe around the issue, not wanting to touch it.

Councillor Andre Martin said he would be grateful for 25 per cent to be paid for, adding he would apply for the benefits package even if he had to pay the whole cost.

“I’m just comfortable with the 25 per cent being paid by the city, that’s a little easier on the taxpayer,” he said.

Councillor Konanz agreed with Martin, saying 25 per cent was a “good amount."

When put to vote, Councillors Picton, Jakubeit, Watt and Sentes remained opposed to a 25-75 split.

“The thing that makes this conversation awkward is we are talking about our benefits,” said Councillor Max Picton.

“If this were the end of our term and we were voting for the next council, I would vote for the full load, even if I knew I was not running again,” he said.

Councillor Judy Sentes then proposed the 100 per cent funded option, which resulted in a split vote, with Konanz, Martin and Watt opposed.

Sentes then proposed a “compromise” motion of a 50-50 split — as originally recommended by staff — which was supported by all but councillors Watt and Martin.

Councillors' benefits will be funded at 50 per cent for the remainder of council’s term.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad at sarstad@infonews.ca or call 250-488-3065. To contact the editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

This story was updated at 1:20 March 17 to reflect a change in motion originally ascribed to Max Picton over acceptance of a 75-25 split in benefit costs.

Editor's Note in response to allegations from Vernon RCMP Supt. Jim McNamara
Editor’s note: • Watch shifts at the Vernon detachment have fallen to as low as three roadable officers. • The department suffers from chronic understaffing. • Sources, who we trust and who have knowledge of the s

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