MORRISBURG – At the Tues., Sept. 19 council meeting, South Dundas’ fire director presented a worst-case scenario for the municipality should Bill 148 pass legislation this year.
Although the bill is most commonly known for its proposal to increase the minimum wage, fire director Cameron Morehouse insisted its “trickle-down effect” to fire services across the province could devastate municipal budgets.
Morehouse noted three areas of concern for South Dundas and Emergency Services within the Fair Workplace, Better Jobs Act – the equal-pay-for-equal-work proposal, increasing the minimum hours of pay per call from two to three, and, most importantly, requiring three hours of pay per day on call.
If the bill is passed in its current state, the annual payroll for South Dundas firefighters would increase from $240,000 to $1.8 million – or 10 per cent of the municipality’s overall yearly budget.
The implications are vast, considering a variety of municipal departments are also required to be on-call 24 hours a day, and staff must be prepared to step in should a boiler fail, a road need to be plowed, a water pump stop, a fire start, or an elderly resident goes missing from a facility.
According to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), the average voluntary firefighter’s wage in Ontario is $25 per hour once they are at the scene. This could mean that if a volunteer firefighter is not exempted from the proposed changes to on-call pay, the cost of volunteer firefighter services will increase to $27,375 per volunteer firefighter per year ($75 per day/365 days per year).
If a municipality had 200 volunteer firefighters, this proposal alone could cost nearly $5.5 million per year without any increase in service to the community.
“This cost is wildly prohibitive for the small, rural and northern municipal governments and may likely force municipal councils to reduce the level of service they are able to provide to their communities,” noted AMO in a report requesting several amendments to the current proposal.
Currently, AMO has requested that the province make several amendments to the bill, including providing an exemption for all municipal employees who are required to be on call to provide statutorily mandated public safety service; as well as providing a clear exemption for management employees with respect to paid on-call.
Morehouse posed four questions to the municipality should the changes take affect: Where will these funds come from? What services will have to be cut? How many firefighters will be cut? What stations will have to close?
“It definitely puts things into perspective,” said CAO-treasurer Shannon Geraghty. “If Bill 148 goes ahead, we won’t be able to keep the same level of service. I think the province threw this out there without thinking of the consequences behind it – it will affect every asset of an organization.”
Accounting assistant Shawn Mason added that the overwhelming increase in payroll for on-call employees does not even reflect the additional hidden costs of the Canadian Pension Plan, Employment Insurance, Employer Health Tax, Work Safety and Insurance, and the possibility of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System.
“This is a snowball that will just keep rolling,” said Morehouse. “If [the province] wants to raise the minimum wage, that’s fine, but this kind of stuff can’t happen.”
Although council will be included in an opposing resolution with other Ontario municipalities to make amendments to the bill, council members also called upon the public to contact their local members of parliament in order to demand changes.
Councillor Bill Ewing added: “Taxpayers’ bills will increase like crazy.”