Nfld. & Labrador

More than $1.37M: That's what municipal managers in metro St. John's area earn every year

Thirteen cities, towns and communities make up the St. John’s metropolitan area and each one has its own town manager. But is that the best way to go about it?

All 13 municipalities have their own manager. Could metro be managed more efficiently?

St. John's has the highest paid-town manager in the metro area. Bay Roberts Nigel Black says that makes sense, as it's the biggest and most complicated centre to run. (Submitted by Alick Tsui )

Thirteen cities, towns and communities make up the St. John's metropolitan area and each one has its own town manager. But is that the best way to go about it?

Town managers, or chief administrative officers, are responsible for snow clearing, garbage collection, road maintenance, and other things that keep communities functioning.

Town councils set the direction for a municipality, and town managers see it through.

The numbers

In the metro area, town manager salaries total roughly $1.37 million combined. (A breakdown of what each community pays is at the end of the article.)

Last year, Halifax's chief administrative officer made $273,852 to look after a region with nearly twice the population and seven times the area. 

According to the latest census, the metro St. John's area has 205,955 people in 804.8 square kilometres and the Halifax Regional Municipality has 403,131 people in 5,490 square kilometres.

Halifax Regional Municipality was created in 1996, when the area amalgamated. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

In the City of Toronto, there's about 2.7 million people in 630.2 square kilometres. That's 13 times the population of metro in about 80 per cent of the space.

According to the city's figures, the city manager makes between $340,503.80 and $383,073.60.

Each area has varying managerial support staff. At the top, Halifax has 10 directors reporting to the CAO. Toronto has three deputy city managers and a chief financial officer.

Toronto has 13 times more people in 80 per cent of the space but the city manager there makes much less than all of the metro managers combined. (John Rieti/CBC)

In the metro St. John's area, the amount of support staff depends mostly on population.

Town managers in smaller places with smaller staffs sometimes take on a wider variety of tasks, including doubling as the town clerk. Larger centres with other department heads divvy up the work, but generally oversee everything.

In St. John's, where the city manager makes $233,853.75, there are four deputy managers and a population of 108,860.

There are 452 residents in Bauline. The town manager's email is listed as the town's main point of contact online. After six years in the role, he now makes $52,500.

So the question becomes: does each city/town/community need its own manager, or is there a case for one manager, with regional directors and more combined services? 

Amalgamate? 

Rob Greenwood, associate vice-president of public engagement with Memorial University's Harris Centre, doesn't think amalgamation is the answer. 

"Contrary to what your normal intuition may be, amalgamations don't usually save money — especially if they're forced," he said. 

Greenwood says towns on the Northeast Avalon are already doing a good job sharing services.

Rob Greenwood says amalgamation isn't always the answer but suggests more collaboration could take place outside the St. John's metro area. (Katie Breen/CBC)

"If amalgamation is something municipalities and citizens agree is the way they want to go, great. But if C.B.S., Mount Pearl, St. John's, Paradise are able to work effectively to get around service provision, I wouldn't quibble about the small dollars if it means you have better democracy," he said. 

He includes town manager salaries in the "small dollars" category. 

"I see town managers as just one piece of the municipal apparatus in the province," he said. "And if you want to have separate municipalities, they're part of the picture."

Instead, what Greenwood would like to see a mechanism for regional planning so towns could meet and discuss ways to co-operate. 

Something like that is "grossly needed," he said, because while he feels the metro area is fairly good at sharing, he said provincewide "we have a long way to go."

Regionalization?

Nigel Black is the chief administrative officer in Bay Roberts and heads the Professional Municipal Administrators — a professional organization of people who work for municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador.

He believes total regionalization would be complicated to implement because it could mean a change to town councils and how people are represented. 

He said existing support staff would need to be rethought while still maintaining the same level of service in each area.

Nigel Black is president of the Professional Municipal Administrators group. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

But he does see the potential for some improvement with the existing setup. 

"I'm sure there's areas where, you know, it might make sense to consolidate some of those duties or regionalize some of those duties, he said. 

"Some places that's probably already happening, just through co-operation amongst towns, but certainly there's probably room for improvement in some places, some locations." 

As for the salaries in metro St. John's, Black said they're reasonable — the range accommodates the complexity of the work. 

"Certainly the City of St. John's is a much more complex organization than the Town of Bauline or the Town of Bay Roberts … there's some key responsibilities that we all have as administrators but certainly the size of the organization is going to make a difference in some of the expertise that's needed to run those organizations."

The following is a breakdown of town manager/chief administrative officer salaries in metro St. John's. Figures were either publicly available online or provided by the towns. Population numbers and land area figures are from the 2016 census.  

Salary breakdown 

St. John's 

  • Salary: $233,853.75

  • Population: 108,860

  • Area: 445.88 square kilometres

Conception Bay South 

  • Salary: $199,155

  • Population: 26,199 

  • Area: 59.10 square kilometres

Mount Pearl 

  • Salary: $207,610

  • Population: 22,957 

  • Area: 15.76 square kilometres

Paradise 

  • Salary: $137,563.60

  • Population: 21,389 

  • Area: 29.58 square kilometres

Portugal Cove-St. Philip's (job title: town manager/engineer)

  • Salary range: $105,288 to $116,220

  • Population: 8,147 

  • Area: 57.43 square kilometres

Torbay 

  • Salary: $121,011.80 

  • Population: 7,899

  • Area: 34.89 square kilometres

Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove

  • Salary: $70,520

  • Population: 2,221 

  • Area: 16.97 square kilometres

Pouch Cove 

  • Salary: $80,000

  • Population: 2,069

  • Area: 58.34 square kilometres

Flatrock

  • Salary: $55,000

  • Population: 1,683 

  • Area: 18.12 square kilometres

Witless Bay 

  • Salary: $55,029

  • Population: 1,619

  • Area: 17.49 square kilometres

Bay Bulls

  • Town clerk salary: $57,000 

    • Bay Bulls is currently advertising for a town manager. By email, the town said a salary range hadn't been established for the manager position — it would depend on the candidate's experience.

  • Population: 1,500 

  • Area: 30.74 square kilometres

Petty Harbour

  • Salary: By email, the current CAO said she wouldn't disclose her salary

  • Population: 960 

  • Area: 4.54 square kilometres

Bauline 

  • Salary $52,500

  • Population: 452 

  • Area: 15.94 square kilometres


TOTAL: $1,374,531.15 (using low end of Portugal Cove-St. Philip's range and without Petty Harbour)

About the Author

Katie Breen

Reporter

Katie Breen works for CBC in St. John's.

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