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Brandon Sun - PRINT EDITION

City's go-to excuse doesn't hold water

“The 2012 report is very much similar to all prior years, other than 2011. There’s increases according to collective agreements and things like that, but other than the flood of 2011, this one is very similar to past years.”

— Val Rochelle, City of Brandon director of finance

With all due respect to Val Rochelle, the statement she made to the Sun on Thursday is patently untrue.

To start with, the 2011 flood is a red herring when it comes to fiscal documents, because it’s far too easy for a government — whether it be the City of Brandon or the province — to blame all its financial woes on one majorly sloppy spring.

In its defence of significant spending increases and its failure to balance the budget, the provincial NDP — for example — has used the phrase “due to the 2011 flood” so often that it’s become its pat answer for nearly every financial problem facing the province today.

That the City of Brandon too has adopted the flood as an excuse is not surprising — it’s an easy way to pass the buck — but when it comes to talk of employee salaries and comparisons over the last few years, it simply doesn’t hold water anymore.

On Thursday, the city reluctantly released its annual compensation disclosure report, which showed that 57 employees of the City of Brandon made more than $100,000 in 2012, and a total of 359 employees made more than $50,000.

If Rochelle is right, these numbers should be similar to 2009 and 2010 — at the very least. But they’re not.

As disclosed in the 2009 compensation report, 292 city employees made more than $50,000, and of those, just 25 made more than $100,000 — including overtime costs.

Then in 2010, there were 297 employees on the $50,000-and-over list, with 29 of them making more than $100,000, with overtime included of course.

Admittedly, the 2011 compensation disclosure list was unusual in that so much overtime was claimed by city employees that a whole separate column was included for overtime costs next to the base salary column; the city claimed it was so the numbers didn’t appear overly skewed.

That year, 347 people made the list for employees making more than $50,000 — and of those, 49 needed overtime payouts to break the $50,000 threshold required to be on the list. Of those 347 people, 33 breached the $100,000 mark.

We were told by the city, however, that this was an anomaly, and that the numbers would return to a more acceptable level the following year — because casual labourers wouldn’t be on overtime flood duty as they were in 2011.

But the number of employees making more than $50,000 actually increased by 12 in 2012, according to the 2012 disclosure report, and the number making more than $100,000 nearly doubled — to 57. That’s a lot of people who are very well paid, on your dime.

These are extraordinary salary numbers and they have their roots in a 2012 budget decision by Brandon City Council to add nearly $6 million to city employee salary lines.

As explained by Mayor Shari Decter Hirst during the raucous 2012 budget process, pay adjustments for non-union and administrative staff were eight years overdue. In a bid to “catch up” to salaries in nine comparable cities in Western Canada and the Manitoba government, city officials wanted to retroactively increase non-union salaries by a median 12 per cent — at least, that was the plan before a public outcry forced council to shave a little of that off.

The public may need to speak up again soon. Because if ratepayers think this is bad, wait until they see the salary numbers for next year.

As the Sun reported earlier this year, Brandon police finalized a contract with the city that gave them a 4.4 per cent raise, retroactive to Jan. 1, with the possibility of another raise this coming July 1.

This was the second one-year contract in a row for the Brandon Police Association — last year’s contract gave an across-the-board raise of two per cent, as well as improved overtime and increased vacation. This year’s settlement also introduced a short-term retirement incentive package that was to boost payouts to officers if they retire before July 16 of this year.

And don’t get us started on the firefighters union. Last fall the city informed the public it was offering firefighters a two per cent raise in 2012 and another two per cent this year. Negotiations have gone nowhere, which means the situation will no doubt go to arbitration — and that never ends well for the city purse.

Whether the city’s charge that the union was asking for a 17 per cent raise over two years and a 30 per cent increase in benefits for firefighter/paramedics is true or not, the fact remains that the rise in city salaries appears out of control.

These are your tax dollars at work, folks.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 22, 2013

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And if there were no Police or Fire/EMS Service available to the good citizens of Brandon what would the majority say then?

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“The 2012 report is very much similar to all prior years, other than 2011. There’s increases according to collective agreements and things like that, but other than the flood of 2011, this one is very similar to past years.”

— Val Rochelle, City of Brandon director of finance

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“The 2012 report is very much similar to all prior years, other than 2011. There’s increases according to collective agreements and things like that, but other than the flood of 2011, this one is very similar to past years.”

— Val Rochelle, City of Brandon director of finance

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