Toronto can’t afford another sweetheart deal with its police union

According to The Star’s editorial on policing costs in Toronto, “The base salary for a first-class constable is now more than $90,000. But there’s more. Officers enjoy perks exceedingly rare in the private sector, including permission to bank up to 18 sick days a year and cash them out for tens of thousands of dollars; lavish “retention pay” bonuses; city-funded massages, and even having taxpayers cover the cost of doing their laundry.

Salaries and benefits gobble up 90 per cent of Toronto’s $1.15-billion police budget. And they’ve frankly become unaffordable, especially in light of falling crime rates across North America.”

Comment by Linda Saxon: fortunately, Amherstburg Police Service is one of those rare services in Ontario that did not negotiate ‘retention pay;’ it would have cost the taxpayers more, but nowhere near what the feared OPP takeover clause has cost us – an estimated million dollars a year to ‘keep it local.’

Town council to seek RFP for legal services

Town Council has examined legal fees of $1.4 million from 2010-14 and has decided to seek an RFP (request for proposal). The legal fees for the Amherstburg Police have not been mentioned; as previously noted, Amherstburg Police Chief Tim Berthiaume stated, “the amherstburg police service does not ‘breakdown’ legal expenses.” As inevitably happens in a small town, there is a rumour that a certain ‘local lawyer’ is in a favourable position. River Town Times full article.

Council Will Consider Possible Budget Reductions

Ron Giofu, The River Town Times, reports that town council will consider budget reductions of zero, two, four, five or ten per cent, but it may be mid-February or early March before actuals could come before town council.

Councillor Leo Meloche said based on his business background, he knows it takes time for year-end numbers to be finalized. “If we are going to make the right decisions, we have to have the right information,” said Meloche.

Council will need more information than just the numbers; when it considers each department’s submission, including the police department budget, will council be able to differentiate between necessity and wish list items?

While council does not have the authority to approve or disapprove specific items in the estimates, the Police Services Act states, “council shall establish an overall budget for the board for the purposes described in clauses (1) (a) and (b) and, in doing so, the council is not bound to adopt the estimates submitted by the board.”

There has been reluctance in the past to address policing costs, either by claims of autonomy or by not obtaining an OPP costing, so we’ll see what this council does to control police spending.

In an earlier post, Council Could Cut More, I mentioned that “Policing costs and/or any proposed cuts to the police budget were missing. In an April 8, 2014 CKLW post, Police Chief Tim Berthiaume was confident council will approve the police budget, saying his force is one of the most cost-effective in the province.”

The Auditor General of Ontario’s Cost Comparison of Municipal Police Services estimated per capita cost of police services for a population between 15,000 and 49,999 was:

  • Municipal Police Service $284.00
  • OPP – with contract $150.00
  • OPP – no contract $131.00

We taxpayers do not need budget setting decisions based on subjective information; we need well informed elected officials willing to act in the responsible manner they promised they would.

If a few ‘nice to have but don’t need’ items are cut, they probably won’t even be missed.

Amherstburg Police Patrol Zones Changed After Amalgamation

Commentary by Linda Saxon

Following amalgamation, the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services’ decision regarding the ‘new’ policing proposal was, “From the standpoint of staffing, deployment and supervision, the proposal overall appears sound, and if the proposal is implemented as presented, it should allow for adequate and effective policing in the Town of Amherstburg.”

Three patrol zones were proposed with 24 hour a day policing and a maximum strength per 12 hour shift of six officers: 3 in Zone 1, 1 in each of Zones 2 and 3. Another officer would support all three zones as may be required.

The minimum strength per 12 hour shift was to be one officer per zone with a minimum strength of four officers until 4:00 a.m.

By 2010, as noted on page 8 of the Amherstburg Police Service Annual Report, “The Town is divided into 2 patrol zones ensuring that all areas receive an ongoing police presence.”

In a December 9, 2011 commentary, Amherstburg Police Chief Berthiaume Tight-lipped About Deployment, I asked, how will we know if we’re getting the service that was proposed if there is no accountability?

The question is just as relevant today; the only way to determine the best policing option for our community is to undertake a full comparison and obtain an OPP costing. Council’s decision should not be a subjective one based on speculation or fears, but an objective one based on facts and figures.

Five of the seven essex county municipalities are policed by the OPP as are 324 of the 444 Ontario municipalities; what have we got to lose?

AON Hewitt’s Services To Amherstburg

On August 13, I requested information from the town hall regarding the role of AON Hewitt in relation to the town; the date the service was acquired; the annual cost and the length of the contract. The bureaucratic process and email correspondence was included in an earlier post.

On today’s date, I received the AON Agreement ‘Engagement of Services Agreement between the Town and AON Hewitt.’

However, not all of my questions were answered and since the town switched services in 2012, I have requested earlier documentation as well.

So, if we’re not a metropolitan area and we have competent town staff, why do we need to pay for AON Hewitt’s services?

Commentary by Linda Saxon

Town Outsourcing Human Relations, Insurance, Benefits Administration?

A little over two weeks ago, I made an inquiry regarding “the role of AON Hewitt in relation to the town; the date the service was acquired; the annual cost and the length of the contract.”

According to its website, “Aon is the leading global provider of risk management, insurance and reinsurance brokerage, and human resources solutions and outsourcing services.”

As expected, a bureaucratic process ensued:

Paula Parker, the town’s Manager of Municipal Governance, asked me to clarify “whether you mean Insurance or Human Relations?  Once I have a better understanding, I may better answer your question.”

I replied “just to clarify, any and all roles of AON Hewitt in its relationship to the town.”

Ms. Parker, “Thank you for the clarification Mrs. Saxon, I have copied Michelle Rose, Manager of Human Resources, as she may be better able to assist you with this portion of your request.”  (I also made an inquiry relative to the procedure by-law; more on that will be posted on a future date).

I emailed Ms. Parker, Ms. Rose and all council members, “it’s been two weeks since i asked the question below about AON Hewitt; is it any wonder people complain about a lack of transparency?”

Ms. Parker, “I apologize for the delay in response.  It is my understanding that the Town does not have this information and Michelle Rose, Manager of Human Resources, is trying to obtain the information you have requested from AON Hewitt.   However, has not received the information to date. When I have any other information on the status of your request, I will certainly notify you.”

How could the town not have this information? Either a relationship exists or it doesn’t.

Commentary by Linda Saxon

Phipps Flip Flops – Will The Town Pay Two CAOs?

On May 9, 2014, Mary Caton reported in The Windsor Star that Amherstburg CAO Mike Phipps confirmed Friday that he intends to leave his position before reaching the end of his two-year contract with the town. “I am meeting with council shortly because we’ve got to get a plan in place,” he said. Phipps said he intends to see the town through the impending municipal election and municipal review. “I feel an obligation to hang in there,” he said. “To see that the election is run properly and legally.”

The town advertised for a new CAO and invited applicants to submit a resume by June 30.

In a July 16 Windsor Star article, Phipps said he’s staying put. Candidates for the position are undergoing a council approved vetting process that includes a five-member panel made up of Phipps, human resources manager Michelle Rose, another county CAO that Phipps wouldn’t identify, a “fairly senior” local business leader and a resident.

Why was a panel needed? How was the panel selected? What are the members’ qualifications? Was there an Information and Privacy Commissioner privacy assessment, considering residents are panel members who will access personal information?

The article ends with a quote from Phipps: “So we thought, if we can get the right person that at least this council is satisfied with … I have faith we’ll get the right person,” he said.

Who is “we?” Has Council agreed to rescind his notice to leave plus hire a new CAO?

Commentary by Linda Saxon

Financial Audit Converted To Review Raises Questions

In a November 20, 2013 Windsor Star article, Julie Kotsis reported Hurst cast the deciding vote to oppose the motion to request an independent audit and called it the beginning of the “silly season” noting that an election was coming up next year.

At its January 20, 2014 town council meeting, a unanimous motion was carried to ask the ministry for an audit. According to The Windsor Star, Councillor Diane Pouget said she called the ministry as well and was told “it is council’s responsibility to request this audit.”

Phipps’ March 21, 2014 Report To Council included a recommendation that,Council approve, in principle, moving forward with the Financial Management and Practices Review for the Town of Amherstburg with the costs of the Review being borne by the municipality. Council unanimously agreed.

According to a July 17, 2014 Windsor Star article, Pouget said, “We need an in depth investigation of what happened to that money (that was moved from reserve and other dedicated accounts) and how it got moved and who moved it. We need answers and I would have never agreed to spend $100,000 just to review policies and procedures and to tell us how to do something better.”

Tourist Booth Band-aid

During 2014 budget deliberations, council considered closing the north end tourist booth and redirecting tourists to the Gordon House, an idea that had been considered in the past. However, council subsequently agreed to $8000.00 from TWEPI (Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island) to cover seasonal staffing for a one-year pilot project.

Who will step in and save the booth next year, or the following years if the next council decides taxpayers can ill afford to keep it open?

Residents watched the tourist booth transform from a utilitarian centre to one that included a new fountain, gazebo, stonework planters, trees and the ridiculous two approaches to its entrance – could universal access, or one approach, have saved $8000.00?

Community Adjustment Fund (CAF) Program

As announced on January 27, 2009 as part of the government’s Economic Action Plan, the Community Adjustment Fund (CAF) is providing $1 billion across the country to help create jobs and employment opportunities in communities affected by the global recession.

According to Jeff Watson’s facebook page, “Amherstburg’s $11.265 million CAF grant was the largest in Canada and has helped the town re-invent itself after major industrial closures over the past decade. Amherstburg’s contribution was only $585,000.

We cut the ribbon on the completely reconstructed Laird Avenue in front of Wigle Park. Project components also included bus lay-by’s for General Amherst HS and new crosswalk for pedestrian and student safety, and a completely new North gateway entrance at the community’s tourism information booth.”

 

Amherstburg Police Constable Andrew Challans Not Guilty

The Police Services Act hearing concluded today with a finding of not guilty on all counts.

The Windsor Star Dec 04, 2013 article reported that Challans’ lawyer Bradie argued testimony showed it was Const. Aaron Chambers who intervened and “applied force that caused injury to Timms-Fryer’s face” when he knocked him to the ground. 

How much will this add to the taxpayers’ burden?

Essex Power Shares Issue To Be Discussed May 6

the controversy regarding council’s upcoming decision continues with questions about which council members will vote to sell or keep the asset. taxpayers can voice their objection to sell in this online petition. one local resident has been assured that carolyn davies will vote to keep our shares in this post.

in a february 20, 2014 email, carolyn davies’ position was, “Thank you for your concerned input. Be confident that I am not prepared to make a decision without all the facts outlining  the pros and cons that should be contained in the  public report being presented to us.  Certainly, I am in support of maintaining the ownership of our Essex power shares because they are a renewable and ongoing  asset. The report  may confirm that keeping our shares is the prudent thing to do.   With the price of electricity going up shares could also do the same. There is also the issue of keeping power public, just what owning municipal shares do. I have been receiving many positive and encouraging communications of support.”

in a february 21 email, bart dipasquale’s position was, “Thanks for your opinion on the Essex Power shares matter. I am of the same opinion as you with regard to selling these shares off. It would let down all our residents especially our future generations.”

while no one else responded, councillors pouget and sutherland have been vocal against the sale.

4-3, majority rules.