Fiscal restraint at city hall a matter of attitude


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Totally unsustainable. That’s the only conclusion following the disclosure this week of municipal staff who earned more than $100,000 in 2010.

Membership in the sunshine club mushroomed by 44% — 39 city employees are included on the list, up from 27 in 2009. However, only 10 are city hall employees, while 16 are firefighters and 13 are with the police department.

Is overtime part of the problem, questions Mayor Heather Jackson-Chapman.

“Can we do something to curb that? What can we do to keep this in check to deal with this?”

Yes, overtime is a factor with both police and fire and, for the time being, there’s little St. Thomas can do.

What can be done is careful scrutiny closer to home.

For the past two years, the mantra at city hall has been fiscal restraint.

How can that be achieved when city managers last year received a 3% pay increase and, in the case of chief librarian Rudi Denham, a 7% bump to bring her in line with the rest of the managers.

It’s not a significant chunk of cash, is the response typically offered by members of council.

However, mayor and council, fiscal restraint is an attitude — and the belt tightening has to begin at city hall.

For many city households, a 3% increase in the weekly pay packet last year would have been a godsend. Perhaps what our elected officials should undertake is discussion with these good families who experience too much month at the end of the money.

They scrimp, they cut, they go without, they sacrifice.

Meantime, in the first two months of the year, we’ve heard from this council about the need for more money to attend municipal junkets and more money for electronic gadgets.

There’s that attitude again.

Jackson-Chapman wonders if we’re looking at the same thing next year.

Not if you start making the tough decisions this year.

A LITTLE CLARIFICATION

In Thursday’s T-J, St. Thomas Professional Fire Fighters’ Association President Warren Scott told reporter Kyle Rea his group has not been to an arbitration meeting of any type since 1986.

His association and the city “have been able to freely negotiate collective agreements and I think we should be very proud of this,” Scott stressed.

Sounds like a truly harmonious relationship, doesn’t it?

Well, the picture isn’t quite that rosy.

St. Thomas, like many other Ontario municipalities, has given up on the provincial arbitration process — the deck is stacked against the city and why waste upward of $25,000 on legal costs?

That’s why several southwestern Ontario mayors, including Jackson-Chapman, want the province to re-visit arbitration for contract negotiations with firefighters and police in order to factor in the economic health of individual municipalities.

Locally, firefighters and the city are expected to sit down next week to begin contract negotiations. Scott won’t confirm, but you can bet 24-hour shifts for firefighters will be a hot button.

Now you know why the association was so active politically prior to the October municipal vote.

DON’T WORRY, WE’RE IN COMPLETE CONTROL

From bad to worse over at the health unit.

Late Thursday afternoon, Elgin St. Thomas Public Health advised an internal audit had uncovered “potential inconsistencies in premise inspection reports of one public health inspector.”

The release, from CEO Cynthia St. John, noted the inspector has been suspended pending an investigation by the health unit. St. John said the incident involves a business that serves food, but she declined to identify it.

The male inspector is one of eight working at Elgin St. Thomas Public Health and St. John declined to elaborate on how all of this came to light. She did assure public safety was not at risk.

“It’s important for us to be as transparent as possible,” she stressed.

If that is truly the case, why is the investigation being undertaken internally? And, is it true St. John has been busy this week visiting premises inspected by the health unit? Is this incident just the tip of the iceberg?

Obviously the litany of complaints, allegations of harassment, haggling over a new home and a bevy of unanswered questions are not yet enough to instigate an external audit of the comings and goings at 99 Edward St.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“If it continues on like this, we’re going to be in trouble. It’s a huge amount of money.”

Mayor Heather Jackson-Chapman following the release this week of the names of municipal employees who earned more than $100,000 in 2010 — a total of 39, up from 27 in 2009.

City Scope appears Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to: mccallum@stthomastimesjournal.com.

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