When the Sunshine List is released later this month, Orillians will see whether the trend of spiralling salaries and the rising number of city staff making more than $100,000 continues.
With the exception of three years, the number of city hall staff on the list has grown since 2010. That year, seven staff were making north of $100,000. In 2020, 64 were on the Sunshine List.
In 2010, the total amount of salaries paid to those on the Sunshine List at the city was $820,421. That figure in 2020 was $7,321,247.
Some of the city's most senior staffers have seen double-digit percentage pay raises over the years.
In 2014, when Mayor Steve Clarke began his first term in office, city CAO Gayle Jackson — who was deputy CAO/clerk at the time — received an 18.4 per cent pay hike over the previous year, taking in $167,913. In 2020, she received a 17.7 per cent increase over the previous year, making $221,449.
The second-highest earner in 2020 was Andrew Schell, general manager of environment and infrastructure services. He made $181,245 — 19.7 per cent more than he took home in 2019.
Third on the list in 2020 was Ian Sugden, general manager of development services and engineering, who made $178,902. That was a 20.4 per cent increase over 2019. That was his second double-digit percentage increase since 2014, when he received $133,552 as director of planning and development — 15.8 per cent more than he made in 2013.
Lori Bolton, director of human resources, is also on the list, having received a 13.3 per cent increase in 2014 and a 12.2 per cent hike in 2020.
The total amount paid to city staff on the Sunshine List in 2014 was $2,391,683.
Overall staffing levels, meanwhile, for full-time employees of the city were 249 in 2014 and 264 in 2020.
A departmental restructuring led to new job titles for a number of senior staffers, which is a factor in some of the pay increases.
Coun. Tim Lauer has raised concerns over the years about wage increases at city hall. Last July, he was the only member of council to vote against a cost-of-living adjustment for exempt staff.
At that time, council voted 8-1 to increase it by 1.65 per cent — plus an adjustment that was not divulged — retroactive to January 2021, and 1.5 per cent — also with an undisclosed, additional adjustment — effective Jan. 1, 2022, 2023 and 2024.
Lauer said he understands the need for cost-of-living adjustments, but he wasn’t comfortable with staff recruitment and retention being used to justify pay hikes for senior staff.
“I’ve never seen enough documentation to make me comfortable with that idea. I don’t think it’s a strategy that is necessary,” he said.
He also has “a general issue with increases.”
“I believe that exempt staff wage levels at the city have traditionally been more than adequate, given the size of the city and the resident income averages which are supporting them — resident income levels, I would add, that are much lower than the provincial average,” he said.
Lauer also takes issue with how the process of wage increases takes place — largely, behind closed doors.
“Increases related to retention and recruitment are, in my opinion, policy decisions that could be discussed in open council,” he said. “These wage decisions are also being made outside the budget process and are without budget context. The last two decisions were both in camera and the 2020 decision never reached a regular council meeting.”
He believes council has “a certain amount of room in regards to wages.”
“Cost of living needs to be factored in, but beyond that, I believe we have choices,” he said. “I prefer the idea of using whatever wage room we have or once had to augment middle management and to hire more front-line staff that can maintain our infrastructure and enforce our bylaws.”
Fire department staff usually make up the majority of city employees on the Sunshine List, but those wage levels are “out of our hands,” Lauer said.
“We negotiate, we disagree, it goes to arbitration, and the provincial arbitrators have consistently decided in favour of the firefighters,” he said, adding that “won’t likely change until the province is actually paying the bill.”
Council has more control when it comes to wages for exempt staff, he said.
He also pointed out council is often told about concerns with understaffing at the city, leading to projects being delayed.
“To my mind, that is a more important issue to solve than a perceived retention/recruitment issue.”
Exempt staff are the ones providing reports to council on wages for exempt staff, and Lauer feels those reports are lacking.
“I just have never received enough documentation that I’m convinced about the increases,” he said.
He suggested a separate committee might be a better option, as it could have more time to research and provide background before making recommendations to council about wages.
Mayor Steve Clarke said that “might make sense,” but he noted an independent consultant was hired in 2019 to review wages.
That consultant suggested the city move up to the 50th percentile for salaries to remain competitive, Clarke said, noting the average for municipalities in Simcoe County at the time was the 50th to 75th percentile.
“That alone causes us to lose our competitiveness,” he said.
Not considering that percentile change, exempt staff are seeing increases of 1.5 to two per cent per year, he added, referring to that as “a relatively modest increase.”
For many who aren’t making six figures, “it’s harder for them to understand, and I get that,” Clarke said.
“The reality is if we want to retain and attract good employees, it gets very, very tough when we’re not competitive with other municipalities.”
Orillia’s growth is also a factor, he said, noting the consultant in 2019 indicated the city was “not keeping up” in terms of staffing levels.
Clarke singled out the city’s building division as an example. In 2014, 506 building permits were issued. Each subsequent year, besides 2020, saw record numbers of permits being issued, he said, with more than 700 being handed out in 2021.
The so-called Sunshine List — the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act — came into effect in Ontario in 1996, requiring disclosure of salaries of those in the public sector making more than $100,000. Clarke noted the $100,000 threshold hasn’t changed.
“Just through normal inflation, you’re going to have many full-time employees join that club,” he said. “It strikes me as a little more arbitrary today.”
The Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act requires those salaries to be released each year by the end of March.