HALIFAX’S SUNSHINE LIST: 665 HRM staffers earn more than $100,000 a year

via The Chronicle Herald

Police and fire department staff top a “Sunshine List” of municipal staff earning more than $100,000 released Monday.

The “Statement of Compensation” shows that about 18 per cent of municipal, library and Halifax Water staff, 665 in total, make more than $100,000 annually.

There were 3,578 employees in the Halifax Regional Muncipality (HRM) as of June, not including volunteer firefighters and library staff.

This is the first year the city has released this list; they hope to publish it annually.

“I’m sure there will be a lot of discussion around it,” said Mayor Mike Savage in a phone interview Tuesday.

“But it’s important that it’s out.”

The list was made public after Regional Council voted to do so last November.

Topping the list of the highest total salaries are Chief of Police Jean-Michel Blais, earning about $205,000, and former CAO Richard Butts who earn roughly $346,330.

Savage has the 15th highest salary on the list, about $175,700.

In fact, many of the top earners are in executive or management positions.

“We have reduced the number of managers we have in the city and we’ve been really tight on budgeting,” Savage said.

HRM spokesman Brendan Elliott said the salaries for executives are a matter of trying to achieve a fine balance.

“We want to make the salary attractive enough that we have great people coming here,” Elliott said Tuesday.

“But we want to do it responsibly for the taxpayers.”

The columns on the document are divided into Salary/Wages and Other Benefits.

Elliott said the number in the first column includes annual salary, “acting” pay and the amount of overtime earned.

“Other benefits” refers to payments and perks like retirement or severance payments, long-term incentive plan earnings, and vacation payouts.

The pay period on the list ended in March, and it takes into consideration 27 bi-weekly pays received by employees.

Two departments dominate the list.

When taken together, police and fire services make up about 68 per cent of the major earners.

About 210 of Halifax’s 453 fire staff rake in the big bucks. For the police department, it’s roughly 244 out of 788 staff.

Savage said police and fire services serve a vital and sometimes dangerous role, and therefore deserve the pay they receive.

“We will always treat our employees fairly,” he said.

But he did admit police and firefighters receive a lot of overtime pay.

“We have already looked at the high cost of overtime in the fire department this year,” said Savage.

“We are going to be hiring more fire personnel.”

For police and fire services, overtime pay could include court appearances, investigations or responding to major fires that require additional personnel.

Elliott said a firefighter, for example, could work a 24-hour shift.

If someone calls in sick suddenly, then they bring someone in to cover the shift who also works all their own hours.

He said firefighters aren’t paid time-and-a-half for overtime, which could be good news from a taxpayer’s perspective.

“I think that’s where taxpayers want to see their money spent, on situations where we are reacting to emergencies that involve public safety,” he said.

Elliott said police and fire department salaries are based on of a collective agreement that determines the adequate pay for that position.

He also said Halifax has compared their salaries with many other cities.

For example, Toronto’s Sunshine List also has a heavy police presence, with 4,638 officers earning more than $100,000.

Their police chief took home roughly $292,500 in 2015.

Savage hopes this salary transparency will be helpful for the public and the staff.

“This provides a bit of a light on decision-making in the years to come.”

Original publish date: Aug. 23, 2016

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