Ex-CAO re­veals to city costly change to pay­outs

The Daily Press (Timmins) - - FRONT PAGE - LEN GILLIS

A for­mer chief ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer for Tim­mins says a change made to the city’s re­tire­ment ben­e­fits in the last 10 years could be cost­ing the city mil­lions of dol­lars.

A ques­tion was raised whether the ac­tions of pre­vi­ous city coun­cils were le­gal in al­low­ing for this.

The pre­sen­ta­tion, which ap­peared to catch most mem­bers of city coun­cil by sur­prise, was from for­mer CAO Grant Chevrette. He served 35 years at city hall, 10 years as the CAO dur­ing the 1990s and into the new mil­len­nium.

Chevrette told coun­cil the ben­e­fit in­volves the pay­out of sick leave cred­its for city em­ploy­ees. He said this be­gan back in 1975 when the city was deal­ing with a va­ri­ety of work­ers from dif­fer­ent jobs from the old Town of Tim­mins, along with work­ers from Whit­ney, Tis­dale and Moun­tjoy Town­ships.

He said the city de­cided it would pro­vide a sick leave ben­e­fit for ev­ery city worker, re­gard­less of their po­si­tion.

“What we want to em­pha­size is that em­ploy­ees, re­gard­less of their bar­gain­ing unit, were all treated the same with re­gard to sick leave,” said Chevrette.

The only lim­i­ta­tion, he said, was the sick leave ben­e­fit was limited to six months.

Then came the 1990s and there was a re­ces­sion in On­tario. Chevrette said in the late 1990s, a freeze was ne­go­ti­ated by the city with eight mu­nic­i­pal bar­gain­ing units on the pay­out of ac­cu­mu­lated sick leave cred­its to new em­ploy­ees.

Chevrette said the dif­fer­ence was that new em­ploy­ees could ac­cu­mu­late sick leave cred­its but would not re­ceive a pay­out for them on re­tire­ment.

City em­ploy­ees hired prior to the freeze con­tin­ued to ac­cu­mu­late sick leave cred­its that would be paid out on re­tire­ment. The think­ing was that once this group of city work­ers re­tired, there would be no fur­ther li­a­bil­ity on the city for sick leave pay­outs.

“This sta­tus quo pre­vailed for more than 10 years,” said Chevrette.

“Then in 2008, coun­cil ne­go­ti­ated col­lec­tive agree­ment amend­ments with four bar­gain­ing units.

He said this in­cluded public works, in­side work­ers, tran­sit work­ers and li­brary work­ers and ef­fec­tively rolled back the freeze on sick cred­its and pay­outs,” he re­vealed.

Chevrette said for some rea­son, the city de­cided to bring back the re­tire­ment pay­out. Not only that, but the ben­e­fit was in­creased and the pay­out was made retroac­tive.

“These amend­ments with re­gard to sick leave, dou­bled the rate of sick­leave ac­cu­mu­la­tion from half a day a month to one day a month; made all fu­ture sick leave cred­its el­i­gi­ble for pay­out on re­tire­ment, and made all sick leave cred­its ac­cu­mu­lated for the 10 years of 1998 to 2008, that had been frozen for pay­out pur­poses, retroac­tively el­i­gi­ble for pay­out on re­tire­ment,” he said.

“We won­der whether coun­cil has the le­gal au­thor­ity to ne­go­ti­ate such sub­stan­tial and costly im­prove­ments to sick leave ben­e­fits in ex­pired col­lec­tive agree­ments.”

Chevrette added that the fi­nan­cial li­a­bil­ity is not only in­creas­ing for the city, but it is hap­pen­ing “at an alarm­ing rate.”

He said there are still four other mu­nic­i­pal bar­gain­ing units that are not in­cluded in the new ben­e­fit pack­age.

“In this day and age how can coun­cil deny equal treat­ment for the pay­out of ac­cu­mu­lated sick leave cred­its?”

Chevrette said it is easy to see that the other bar­gain­ing units — the fire­fight­ers, nurses, wa­ter plant work­ers and air­port work­ers — will all qual­ify for equal treat­ment.

“What will this cost city tax­pay­ers?” he asked.

Chevrette told coun­cil that in 2001, the post-em­ploy­ment sick leave li­a­bil­ity for Tim­mins was listed at $3.6 mil­lion in the city’s au­dited fi­nan­cial re­port.

In 2016, that same au­dited re­port showed the sick leave li­a­bil­ity has risen to $13 mil­lion, which he said was an in­crease of more than $600,000 each year.

Chevrette said re­tire­ment ben­e­fit costs are ris­ing, and if the city pro­vides it for one union group, then the city can even­tu­ally ex­pect to pay for all union lo­cals.

Chevrette posed a few clos­ing ques­tions to coun­cil, but said his main ques­tion was what was the city’s jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for re-in­tro­duc­ing the sick leave credit ben­e­fits 10 years af­ter all par­ties had agreed to the freeze in 1998.

He also asked if any other mu­nici- pal­ity in On­tario had done any­thing sim­i­lar. And he asked, if the city has any sort of a plan to deal with the grow­ing and costly ex­pense.

Mayor Steve Black thanked Chevrette for his pre­sen­ta­tion and said although the 2008 changes seem re­cent in the grand scheme of things, most mem­bers of the ex­ist­ing coun­cil were not around at that time.

“I am sure we will ask staff to fol­low up on the list of ques­tions you’ve raised, and come back to us with a re­port,” said Black.

Sev­eral city coun­cil­lors ex­pressed dis­may with the re­port and said coun­cil needs more in­for­ma­tion on how and why the ben­e­fits were re-in­tro­duced.

Len Gilis/ The Daily Press

Grant Chevrette, the for­mer chief ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer for the City of Tim­mins, dropped a bomb­shell on coun­cil Tues­day night when he re­vealed that a costly re­tire­ment sick leave ben­e­fit that was dis­con­tin­ued in 1998 has been re-in­tro­duced for sev­eral of the cityís bar­gain­ing units and it is cost­ing the city more than $600,000 a year. Sev­eral city coun­cil­lors have asked the cityís fi­nance de­part­ment to pro­vide a full re­port on Chevrette’s pre­sen­ta­tion.

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