By Doug Draper
Regional councillors voted 13 to 10 this July 28 to impose a hiring freeze, immediately, for all full time positions in the regional government, including those at its partner agencies, boards and commissions.
The freeze, effective to the end of 2012, is another step the council is taking to keep its budget more in line with the ability of people across Niagara to pay property taxes without having to give up other necessities in their lives.
Interestingly enough, the freeze excludes the Niagara Regional Police Service which now has an annual operating budget of about $127 million – more than 90 per cent of it going to wages and benefits and consuming well more than a third of the total net operating budget, totally about $282 million – for every department and partner agencies at the region.
Niagara regional chair Gary Burroughs told Niagara At Large following the passage of the hiring freeze that three regional councillors, including himself, Port Colborne Mayor Vance Badawey and Thorold’s Henry D’Angela, are now sitting on the board for the NRP and they hope to prevail upon them to respect the spirit of the hiring freeze for virtually everyone else under the regional umbrella.
Burroughs said the NRP is exempted from the freeze because they are governed under another piece of provincial legislation called the Ontario Police Act. Unfortunately, that act appears to have made it easier for police unions across the province to get raises for their members that too often defy the ability of regions like Niagara to pay for them.
In Niagara, the police union was once again able to get approve from provincial arbitrators last winter for a two to three per cent wage and benefit increase over the next three years despite a recession that has seen many other residents losing their jobs or continuing to work at jobs where they’ve down-waged or had their wages and benefits flat-lined for the foreseeable future.
With a workforce of more than 3,000 to look after water and sewer treatment, waste management, roads, public health and other services, Niagara’s regional government is one of the biggest employers in the region.
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