What happens in Hamilton, is happening here and everywhere

Posted January 29, 2014

The recent demand by the Guelph Police Services Board (GPSB) to have the city finance a $34 million renovation of the downtown police Headquarters, is an example of an antiquated Ontario Police Act. It is an Act that prompted Mayor Farbridge to tell her council that they had no choice but to approve it because of legislative stipulations. This current legislation would enforce the demand and the taxpayers have no choice, the Mayor said.

The Mayor of course sits on the GPSP along with Coun. Leanne Piper. During the closed meetings of the GPSB the initial proposal to renovate the headquarters building was $13.3 million. But something happened when six months later the price tag was $34 million.

Here’s where it stands today. Council has approved spending $34 million pending a review by staffs of the city and police administration in an attempt to seek alternatives or reduce the costs. In April, the results of this review may be known.

This huge capital expense is only the tip of the iceberg. In Hamilton there is deep concern about the powers given to police and their service boards, via the Ontario Police Act.

Case in point is the how a Hamilton police inspector, David Doel, suspended for acts of misconduct, received  $500,000 during his suspension and is now retired.  Coupled with that are the legal expenses incurred during the suspension.

In Guelph, a similar case involved a member of the police drug squad who was suspended following conviction of stealing drugs from the evidence lock-up. In addition to the full pay and benefits the officer received during his suspension, he negotiated a seven-month additional suspension period before agreeing to retire. The GPSB argued they had no choice.

And they were right. The Ontario Police Act states that any officer in the province who is suspended must receive full pay and benefits during the suspension period. With constables earning on average $90,000 a year without overtime, it is easy to see that disciplining a public employee who wears a police uniform can be expensive.

And the taxpayers have no choice. They have had the cuffs put on by antiquated bureaucracy and union demands.

This is another example how misguided provincial legislated power hits the municipality budgets and elected officials have no recourse.

The hidden costs of retirement of police and fire officers are another huge liability that municipalities in Ontario are facing. Most of Guelph’s employees are members of the Ontario Municipal Employee Retirement Service (OMERS) that is currently underfunded by $12 billion. There are only two ways to get rid of the pension fund actuarial deficit: Increase the contributions and extend the retirement age to 65.

Of course increasing the contributions falls on the shoulders of the municipal taxpayer who must pay half of the increase. On top of that, citizens must guarantee the pensions of their retiring workers, and a cost of living allowance, pegged to the Canadian Price Index. That’s for the rest of their lives.

Statistics show the average OMERS retirement age is currently 58. On top of the pension, OMERS also gives the retiree an amount equal to what he or she may receive from the Canada Pension Plan until age 65.

Gina Raimondo, Treasurer of the State of Rhode Island, did something about curbing rising public employee pension costs. Instead of accepting the “best last five consecutive years” as a pension base, she introduced a plan that covered the entire employment period of the retiree and established an average number. She also boosted the retirement age to 67. These and other pension reforms will stay in place until the unfunded pension liabilities are replenished.

She was attacked by the unions, public employee sector and academics but stuck to her reform plans.

It is an example that the provincial government should emulate to insulate the municipalities from being forced to finance employees until the day they die.

Perhaps our MPP, the Hon. Liz Sandals, might step out of the shadows and advise the premier that the government needs to rewrite the Police Act to stop the excessive growth of Ontario police salaries and benefits.

Our member’s track record supporting the provincially mandated issues facing her constituents has been a dismal failure. This includes the property tax deal mandated by the province in which the city receives the equivalent of $75 per University of Guelph student in lieu of property tax.

Ms. Sandals is a cabinet minister in the provincial government. She has some say in what reforms her party is willing to introduce to reduce the financial liabilities the province has downloaded to the municipalities.

This includes the ability to fire, for cause, any public servant convicted of improper conduct or betrayal of trust. It includes rewriting the Ontario Police Act so that municipalities have financial control over their public safety employees.

In Guelph, the GPSB could start with eliminating the sick leave system that allows employees to accumulate unused sick days and receive a one-time payout when retiring. The former police chief walked away with more than $40,000 in sick day pay that he did not use. In short, he was paid twice for those days that he didn’t take off as sick leave.

With most public employees receiving three per cent salary and wage increases and benefits a year, it’s a hard sell to those who pay the bills. The average middle class worker in Ontario has not received similar increases in the past ten years.

In fact the Ontario workplace has changed dramatically in that ten-year period. Private sector wages have stagnated for most workers. Jobs have disappeared as the manufacturing sector has shrunk.  Many new hires are not offered permanent employment, few benefits and are classed as independent contractors taking them outside the Ontario labour laws..

Housing prices have soared and Ontario has one of the highest tax rates in North America with a consumption tax of 13 per cent; service fees that are taxes on top of taxes; land transfer taxes; gouging prices on alcoholic beverages; annual incremental increases of everything from driver’s licences to birth certificates to provincial park camping fees.

This Liberal government has overstayed its welcome and is no longer the party of reform. The party’s management of the economy speaks volumes of its inability to balance the budget and maintain a level of affordable services for all citizens.

Unfortunately, the alternatives are not attractive at this point in time.

Ms. Sandals represents a provincial party that is unable to manage except to keep raising taxes and fees and public sector salaries and wages.

Guelph and Ontario deserves better representation.

 

 

 

 

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