Just four short months from now, Brandon residents will be asked to elect or re-elect their local representatives and the city mayor.
And in the leadup to election day, there are many issues that deserve strong debate among candidates and the public at large — from the ongoing affordable housing debate, taxation and the city’s crumbling downtown, to our aging infrastructure and the direction of the city’s future growth.
All of these issues are important and they deserve our attention.
But based on the city’s latest compensation disclosure report, which we reported on yesterday, we suggest that one of the most pressing issues facing the city is the ballooning cost of salaries for City of Brandon employees.
The last five years is telling.
In 2008, 227 city employees made $50,000 or more, with only nine of those making more than $100,000. The highest paid position that year was that of the city manager — one Brian MacRae — who earned $167,000. Corrected for five years of inflation, and the city manager’s salary in 2008 is worth about $179,241 in 2014 dollars.
All told, the salaries of those who made more than $50,000 in 2008 totalled $16,345,033.47 — nearly 28 per cent of the city’s total operating budget for that year.
Compare that with the 2013 compensation report, only five short years later. In the past fiscal year, 67 city employees earned six-figure salaries, with a total of 370 people earning more than $50,000.
The salaries of these 67 employees totalled $28.3 million, or 38 per cent of council’s approved operating budget for 2013. Also noteworthy is that 45 of the top 67 earners work in the police department. That’s a well-paid police staff.
As we have explained before, the roots of these inflated salary numbers stem from the 2012 budget decision by Brandon City Council to add nearly $6 million to city employee salary lines.
Before 2012, pay adjustments for non-union and administrative staff were eight years overdue, according to our mayor. 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.
As a result, and according to the 2012 disclosure report, the number of employees making more than $50,000 increased by 12 in 2012, and the number making more than $100,000 nearly doubled to 57. And the city has been building upon these numbers ever since.
For example, just yesterday an arbitration board ruled that the city pay three substantial pay increases to members of the Brandon Professional Firefighters’/Paramedics Association.
The award, which is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2012, will see salaries increase four per cent, 4.5 per cent and three per cent for 2012, 2013, and 2014, respectively.
We understand the idea that in order to attract good and qualified people, the city needs to offer competitive salaries. But in the case of firefighters, the arbitration process has circumvented any logical discussion on the issue. To our minds, firefighters are already well-paid, and taxpayers should not be expected to cough up these ridiculous wage hikes. But they will be because the city has the power to tax in order to make up the difference.
Salaries are a huge and increasing portion of our city budget. Every year our taxes rise and the budget grows, and while salaries are not entirely to blame for that fact, they are a substantial factor, and they obviously need to be reined in.
This is not an easy issue to solve, but it’s certainly worth exploring as candidates jostle for voter support this coming October.