Financial statements only part of the spending picture 

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The subject of salary increases feels like it has been much in the news in recent weeks.

Every day stories of the lockout/strike of teachers captures the headlines and along with that comes the inevitable discussion of pay rises. In this latest go round teachers are asking for eight per cent over five years, whereas the government is offering seven per cent over six years.

It's human nature when the topic is in the news to examine where you are at personally, and perhaps look around to see how others are doing as well.

Certainly in the media world these types of raises are for union shops only, and even then they are rich.

I would argue that raises of any kind for the average worker are few and far between — though the economy is recovering slowly and it's likely most companies and corporations could afford to share some of the wealth.

Also this week comes the release of the annual Statements of Financial Information (SOFI) by local governments around the province.

There are no particular red flags in Whistler's report, but it is always eye opening to see how much it costs to run a town.

And again salary increases are part of the financial package disclosed at council this week in Whistler.

We learned at the meeting this week that mayor and council will get a 4.2 per cent pay rise effective January 2015 — it was determined several elections ago that the outgoing council should determine any changes in wages before an upcoming election.

Don't forget that municipal staff received 6.75 per cent salary increase over four years after negotiations last year.

The suggestion had been made that the mayor should get a 7.9 per cent increase to bring the salary to $83,783 and into line with the average of the mayors in the six municipalities Whistler compares itself to when determining remuneration.

But Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, who cut her pay by $10,000 when elected in 2011, suggested that the 4.2 per cent raise councillors were to receive was sufficient. Councillors will now be paid $32,772 for their "part–time" job.

Indeed the salaries have come a long way in the last 15 years or so. In 1996 the mayor was paid $44,203 and councillors earned $13,260. By 2005 the mayor was being paid about $52,000 and councillors received $19,000. In 2006 the mayor's salary, now paired to Lower Mainland municipalities, jumped to about $80,000 and by 2009 it was at $86,200 with councillors earning $30,900.

While some might quibble about the generosity of some of the salaries they must be put in context. The fact is the resort generates over a million dollars a day in tax revenue for the province — imagine instead what the mayor would be paid if she were the CEO of a company with the same financial record. The same can be said for senior members of staff. The question is really about the value received by the resort.

It's really impossible to compare Whistler to anywhere else on the issue of remuneration. But one might look at Banff, which boasts close to three million visitors to its national park a year, and is also a tourist town. Mayor Karen Sorensen earned $48,243 in pay and benefits in 2013, up from $42,423 in 2012. The nine councillors maxed out at $24,500.

Interesting to note that Whistler's Chief Administrative Officer, Mike Furey, earned $209,000 in salary and benefits according to this latest SOFI report, whereas Banff's CAO received $253,697 in pay and benefits for 2013.

The report also gives us a snapshot look at some of the spending done by local government as well.

We see the costs of hosting concerts, managing policing, paying the legal fees and paying our firefighters, amongst other things.

But just as important as the numbers is the fact that this is government transparency. Voters can see where money is going — though there is always more to the story that just the simple financial figure.

If people can see the money and take an interest in how it is spent then they are more likely to get involved in the politics of the community and that might mean they get out and vote!

Let's not forget that our local election is less than six months away.

To see the full SOFI go to www.whistler.ca/sites/default/files/related/municipal-government/packages/2014-06-17_regular_council_package.pdf.

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