By Andrew Stuckey
Is is possible to put a number to the cost of improved representation and participation?
If so, in Osoyoos that number appears to be somewhere between $6,692 and $50,000.
The second number is the high end of what Janette Van Vianen, the Town’s Director of Corporate Services, suggests a decision to increase Council size to seven from its current five would add to the community’s annual operating budget.
It’s also the number bandied about by Council Monday as it decided not to make such a move, opting instead to keep its membership at five.
And, finally, it’s also the number attached to a single poll question published on the Town of Osoyoos web portal back in December.
The question posed asked “Should the Town add $50,000 to its annual budget for two additional members of Council?”
Not surprisingly, about 70 percent of Osoyoos residents said no.
But what if that cost were $40,000? Or $35,000? Would that have made a difference?
At $50,000, almost one-in-three respondents said that yes, it was worth spending that kind of money to add two additional members to Council.
That got me to wondering: at what point would the scales have tipped, with more people saying yes to the size increase than those saying no?
And, at what point would the Town’s existing Council agree the decision was cost-effective?
Would $40,000 do it? How about $35,000?
Here’s a little discussion in the aftermath — discussion that surprisingly went missing (at least publicly) during Council’s debate Monday.
The $50,000 is “Osoyoos conservative” — that is, a prudent calculation of the most it would cost.
As Ms. Vianen’s report suggested, two additional councilors would each cost the Town of Osoyoos $16,543.08 in stipends and $1,371.36 in benefit cost.
That’s a total of $35,828.88 — $14,000 and change short of the 50K bandied about.
There’s also some expenses to ponder — anywhere between $3,000 and $7,000 per Council member. Add that in for two additional councilors and you start to understand where the $42,000 to $50,000 range comes from.
But even that could be considered a bit misleading.
In 2017, the Town paid just $23,684.05 to cover Council expenses, well below the $31,500 budgeted.
As Mayor Sue McKortoff explained it, the amount is a collective thing, meaning Council kept the expenses down by sending just one or two representatives to costly conferences while the other members stayed home and benefited from reports.
That would suggest, if that practice continued despite the increased Council size, expenses likely wouldn’t be much higher if Council were increased by two.
A $40,000 increase — $10,000 less than the sticker-shock $50K — is suddenly in the ballpark.
And that cost might have been even less except for that first number we bandied about at the beginning of the article — $6,692.
That’s the added cost in Council stipends following Council’s decision to vote itself a raise in August 2016.
The reason given then was “increased work load,” something that might have been avoided if there were two extra pair of hands.
Now, with a little creative budgeting, we’re into the $35,000 range.
To be fair, hindsight is 20/20 and pondering an increase in membership wasn’t even a twinkle in Council’s eye when it determined to increase its pay.
But Monday the talk was of best serving the community and engaging a more diverse population in Council participation.
Several councilors spoke of the substantial burden they carry being a member of the community’s elected government, lamenting that such a responsibility isn’t for everyone.
Perhaps not — at least with the current Council makeup of five.
But many hands make light work.
Adding two additional Council members would lighten that workload substantially for the existing five — and perhaps make it possible for a “nine-to-fiver,” or a dad with kids or a mom who has other things to do in the community to better consider and commit to being part of the Council effort because of that same lighter workload.
Yes, to answer my own question, it is possible to put a number to the cost of improved representation and participation.
In Osoyoos, it seems, that number is somewhere between $50,000 and $6,692. It’s a pity we didn’t do a better job of trying to determine exactly what it is.