Fewer staff, large salaries highlight report

Vernon’s 2013 annual report shows the number of employees has dropped from 321 to 305 full-time equivalents in a year,

The City of Vernon has fewer employees but big bucks are still being paid out.

The city’s 2013 annual report shows that the number of employees has dropped from 321 to 305 full-time equivalents in a year, while total compensation has dropped from $21.46 million in 2012 to  $21.2 million.

“It is what it is,” said Coun. Bob Spiers, adding that the reduction in staff reflects some water treatment positions being transferred to the regional district.

In the annual report, there are 84 employees who earned more than $75,000, with 28 of them coming from the fire department.

“This is the same in all communities where there is a career firefighting force,” said Brent Bond, Vernon Professional Firefighters Association president.

Bond says part of the wage increase for firefighters is because retroactive pay for 2010 and 2011 was received in 2013.

“The city also chooses to operate on minimum staffing levels and pay overtime.”

Vernon’s career firefighters work 42 hours a week, compared to 35 hours for other civic staff.

“When you break down the hourly rate, we’re within the level of most trades,” said Bond.

Topping the list of employees earning more than $75,000 was Will Pearce, the city’s chief administrative officer, with $178,131 in wages and expenses. That is followed by fire chief Keith Green with $133,655 in wages, firefighter Reinhard Mann at a total of $131,200, Bond, who is a firefighter, at $130,671, and finance manager Kevin Bertles at a total of $126,809.

Mayor Rob Sawatzky admits some residents may question the increasing salaries at city hall.

“The cost of living and wage settlements continue to rise,” he said, adding that retaining and attracting staff is important.

“We agonize over the cost every year and we try to keep the budget within limitations but we have to deal with the realities of the day. We have to compete with the market.”

Sawatzky added that staff increases fall within the 1.8 per cent budget cap established by council.

The annual report will be the focus of a public input session July 14 at 4:30 p.m. at city hall.