Retirements hit city payroll

Two dozen employees are expected to retire in 2016, triple the number just five years ago.

City manager George Murray

City manager George Murray

The number of retiring city workers has tripled over the past five years, costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars as unused vacation time gets paid out, while creating challenges in terms of the experience and knowledge base at city hall.

Twenty-four city workers are expected to retire in 2016, marking the sixth consecutive year the number of retirees has increased. In 2011, just eight workers retired, but the exodus has steadily risen since then; 20 city employees retired last year.

The number of retirements has had an effect on payroll costs at the city.

The City of Abbotsford paid out nearly five per cent more to employees in 2015 than the previous year, according to the annual Statement of Financial Information (SOFI) report presented to council Monday.

The increase is mostly due to the fact that 2015 had an extra pay period, according to a city report, which suggests the pay period shift was responsible for more than two-thirds of the increased payouts. The SOFI report calculates money on the day that it is paid out, meaning that pay delivered in the first few days of January of 2015 for work done in December 2014 would be included in the 2015 report. And part of the increase comes from the fact that unused vacation time by retirees ends up getting paid out in lump sums. Such payouts cost the city $510,000 more in 2016 than the previous year.

City manager George Murray said the retirements are an ongoing issue.

“As the boomers are leaving, it is more challenging,” he said. “We’re retiring people with 20, 25 and 30 years experience.

The city paid out $51.3 million in remuneration – which includes wages, bonuses, car allowances, and other taxable benefits – in 2015. That figure is up 4.7 per cent, from $48.8 million the previous year. In addition to retirement payouts, contractual salary increases and a rise in payments to auxiliary firefighters also boosted the numbers. The report does not include payroll for the Abbotsford Police Department.

Murray said the city tries to pay competitive salaries, while trying not to engage in bidding wards.

“It’s not just about attracting staff, it’s also about retaining staff,” he said. “Local government staff are paid fairly and we are in a competitive market for staff. In order to attract the best and the brightest, we have to pay comparable amounts.”

Murray said the city has, in the past, lost employees to other local governments that paid better.

Total employee expenses paid out rose by 16 per cent, from $525,954 in 2014 to $628,861 in 2015. A city spokesperson said the reason for the increase was not known, due to the variety of expenses paid out to staff.

The number of employees making more than $75,000 increased from 234 in 2014 to 270 in 2015. A city report said much of the increase was due to employees just below the threshold the previous year receiving extra pay or overtime.

Overtime by firefighters decreased slightly in 2015, but CUPE employees’ overtime rose sharply, by 38 per cent, from $356,020 in 2014 to $491,767 in 2015.

The top five earners at city hall in 2015 were:

George Murray, city manager:

Remuneration: $285,426; Expenses: $9,343

Jake Rudolph, deputy city manager:

Remuneration: $244,347; Expenses: $9,045

Heidi Enns, parks, recreation and culture GM:

Remuneration: $195,888; Expenses: $596

Don Beer, fire chief:

Remuneration: $190,990; Expenses: $6,298

Siri Bertelsen, planning and development services GM:

Remuneration: $186,378; Expenses: $2,904