EDITORIAL: Payroll needs scrutiny

If bringing a new measure of reality to city spending is an objective of the mayor and members of council ...

If bringing a new measure of reality to city spending is an objective of the mayor and members of council, the civic payroll should be under increased scrutiny in the next budget.

In 2011, the City of Abbotsford spent $45.8 million on employee wages and salaries. That’s up $3.5 million from 2010.

Unionized city staff received a three per cent increase, which is not unreasonable, but still generous considering the challenged economy and provincial government public service contracts that commonly saw settlements of two, one or even zero per cent.

However, the bigger question is in the rest of the payroll figures.

Thirty-one city employees – all earning more than $75,000 annually, and some far more – saw their income increase by more than 10 per cent in 2011, costing taxpayers an additional $462,000. Ten of those people saw increases in excess of 15 per cent.

Some of those hikes were due to promotion, and others may have been affected by holiday buy-outs.

There may be other factors involved, but nevertheless, the public optics aren’t good.

Two years ago, the city engaged a consultant to conduct a compensation review for civic employees, comparing this city’s salary levels against other communities.

The comparison game is rarely ever kind to taxpayers, who it seems must shell out more and more so public servants can keep pace with counterparts elsewhere – who are doing the same, in a never-ending escalation.

It is incumbent upon Abbotsford’s civic leaders to set their own agenda, driven by fiscal restraint.

Many taxpayers will look at significant increases in individual civic employee incomes, and a $3.5-million jump in overall payroll costs in one year, and have trouble believing council has a firm grip on the spending tap.