One city councillor was irritated when he learned Friday morning the city is paying for new firefighter safety shoes every year – even if the shoes aren’t purchased.
Fire chief Richard McCullough was presenting his 2013 budget and being questioned by Coun. Glen Grant about the amount of money the department is forced to spend on safety shoes each year for firefighters.
The cost has more than doubled – each firefighter receives $200 a year now, instead of $80, to purchase safety shoes. McCullough told councillors the money is doled out, regardless of whether or not the shoes are actually purchased by a firefighter, every July.
“That’s ridiculous,” fumed Grant. “Those are the kind of things that really irritate me.”
Grant added he helped negotiate collective agreements during his working life and “I don’t know of too many safety shoes that cost $200.
"We as councillors have to look at all these costs and how can we reduce costs, because they are getting way out of hand.”
The policy is mandated by a collective agreement that an arbitrator settled with the firefighters union. The cost this year will be a little more than $7,300 for taxpayers.
"The (provincial) government has to get a grasp on arbitrators and their awards," said Grant. “I know we point fingers at the fire service and police service…but it’s the arbitrator that gives it to them.”
The city’s protective services, including fire, police and ambulance, account for nearly half the tax dollars collected in the city, and councillors are looking for ways to cut costs.
Coun. Syd Gardiner said it is time to look at other municipalities which have cut staff when large employment settlements are reached.
McCullough addressed that issue, and suggested larger municipalities like Toronto and Kitchener have gone down that road.
“And with all due respect, we’re not Toronto or Kitchener,” he said.
But Gardiner wasn’t having it, and suggested other smaller municipalities have made staffing cuts.
“And we’re getting to that point,” he said.
Coun. Elaine MacDonald said other parts of the city’s budget are being “overwhelmed” by spending on protective services.
“We have to somehow come to terms…and we have to resolve this issue,” she said.
But McCullough suggested the issue has been a problem he’s heard about through his career.
“I’ve heard it for 33 years,” he said. “All the fire chiefs are facing constraints in their budgets, mainly due to increases in salaries and benefits.”