In the midst of this year’s tough budget talks, compensation levels have been afforded some air time in virtual council chambers.
“People are tired of excess everywhere,” Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti said during a finance and administration meeting last month, including “excess in staff compensation” in his list of alleged excesses.
While city council plans on setting the stage for a mayor and council compensation review in January, non-union staff members’ salaries remain on track in accordance with policies set in motion several years ago.
“Council has been shown that our staff levels of compensation are actually below average for municipalities in Ontario – below average, not in excess,” Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo in countering Signoretti’s argument. Jakubo also serves as chair of the city’s finance and administration committee.
“Certainly there can be an opinion in the public that staff salaries are inflated, but the facts speak differently.”
At the time, Jakubo cited an unnamed report that affirmed as much. This week, city general manager of corporate services Kevin Fowke clarified that Jakubo had referenced a slide that was presented in a report by city CAO Ed Archer in a closed session.
The slide in question showed that 10 of the city’s 13 non-union pay groups were below the 50th percentile among a list of municipal comparators. This indicates they earn less than the median.
Lower pay groups such as administrative and co-ordinators are “significantly below” the 50th percentile line, supervisors/managers are closer to the median and directors are on the low end.
“Municipal comparators are chosen from a list of similar municipalities in terms of services provided, the types of roles you can find in those cities,” Fowke said.
The city council-approved list of comparators Greater Sudbury uses includes: City of Barrie, City of Burlington, City of Cambridge, Municipality of Chatham-Kent, City of Guelph, City of Kingston, City of Kitchener, Town of Markham, Town of Oakville, Town of Richmond Hill, City of St. Catharine's, City of Thunder Bay, City of Vaughan and the City of Windsor.
“We’re trying to make sure people are paid appropriately versus the labour market on the outside of the organization so we have the human resources we need to get the work that needs to get done,” Fowke said, adding that the system they currently use for these calculations is at least a couple decades old and automatically follows bargaining units’ increases. The increase for 2022 is 1.5 per cent.
This clarified, Fowke said he appreciates where the public concern comes from.
“We understand the perception that exists when in a very real way your salary and benefits are being paid by your neighbours and the businesses in the community.”
The city’s compensation levels aren’t a mystery, he said, pointing to the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act, which provides salary details for every provincial and municipal bureaucrat who makes more than $100,000. The so-called Sunshine List is reported annually.
Archer topped Greater Sudbury’s Sunshine List in 2020, earning $287,700. This is in the same ballpark as Barrie CAO Michael Prowse’s $290,473 and Burlington city manager Tim Commisso’s $284,818.
There are arguments to be made against using municipal comparators, Fowke said, noting that some people have argued certain roles less specific to municipalities should have their compensation compared to the local private industry instead.
Although certain pay groups dip below the 50th percentile, Fowke clarified the city isn’t in a rush to jack up wages to accommodate for the difference and that they tend to re-evaluate them when they have trouble recruiting.
With compensation levels a viable debate, Fowke said that if city council wanted to change the comparators or the city’s compensation strategy they could do so.
During 2022 budget deliberations earlier this month, Signoretti tabled a motion to have non-union staff members and city council remuneration frozen next year, at a cost-avoidance of approximately $470,000. The motion was defeated despite receiving support from Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier, Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini and Ward 8 Coun. Al Sizer.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.