TORONTO - Penny-pinching Mayor Rob Ford was fine with hundreds of frontline Toronto Police officers taking home more than $100,000 last year but lashed out at spokesman Mark Pugash.
Nearly 40% of Toronto Police officers and civilian employees who work for the force made the annual “Sunshine List” for 2013, including Pugash, who made it to the top 10 earners with a salary of $178,246 and $10,664 in taxable benefits.
“When you look at Mr. Pugash making $178,000 as a communications director — that’s pretty shocking,” Ford said Friday. “But I support our frontline officers — they work hard, they deserve the money.”
The mayor’s 2014 annual salary is $177,499 — almost equal to what Pugash makes.
According to agenda documents published by the Toronto Police Services Board that will be discussed at its board meeting next Thursday, 2,983 employees out of 8,000 — about 37.2% — of the force’s workers earned more than $100,000 last year.
Pugash didn’t fire back at Ford for the slag.
“I don’t respond to personal attacks,” Pugash told the Sun.
Pugash said in an earlier interview before Ford made his comments that while “people are entitled to their reaction” to the list, the high number of people who break the $100,000 mark is due to one thing — the service’s collective agreement with its unions.
“Salaries and benefits are determined by a collective agreement and we’re not a party to that collective agreement,” said Pugash, noting the negotiation lies between the Toronto Police Services Board and the Toronto Police Association.
“What I can tell you is 90% of our budget is salaries and benefits — the 10% where we have direct control, we’ve kept increases (to premium pay) to less than 1% for the last 10 years.”
However, Councillor Mike Del Grande, speaking as an elected politician and not as a member of the Toronto Police Services Board, called the list of lucrative salaries “unsustainable.”
“Toronto has the highest pay-duty amount anywhere in Canada,” he said. “It’s part of the inbred culture that it seems anytime you do anything, you have to have police for it and you really don’t. We have to instill a culture with citizens and with the city that you don’t need police for everything.”
Among the Sunshine earners, Chief Bill Blair topped the list of the highest-paid at roughly $334,000 with an extra $3,360 in taxable benefits.
Chief administrative officer Tony Veneziano came in second place with $240,879 and more than $14,000 in benefits with Deputy Chief Peter Sloly following him at about $240,873 and $3,400 in benefits.
The base salary for a Toronto constable ranges from $89,000 to $97,000 a year.
Plainclothes officers make between $95,000 and $103,000.
There were 253 detective-staff sergeants and 912 detective-sergeants who all have base salaries that are above $100,000.
Eight parking enforcement officers also made it on to this year’s list, including Jagmohan Singh Notay, $131,096 with taxable benefits of $647; Lalmann Lall, $119,832 with $647 in taxable benefits; and Vijey Akumar Alaguras, $110,753 with $647 in taxable benefits.
“The city pays for overtime for parking enforcement officers,” Pugash said. “For every $1 in overtime the city pays to a parking enforcement that officer generates $7 in revenue. We don’t get any of that revenue. But the city clearly has an interest in revenue, so they pay for the overtime.”
This is roughly 200 fewer names on this list than in 2012, which the board attributes to retiring officers.
“I think we’ve done very well,” said the police services board’s Dhun Noria, who is acting chairman while Alok Mukherjee is at a conference in Vancouver. “You keep seeing the numbers go down and that in itself is very good.”
Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack defended his union members, calling the Sunshine List, “not worth the paper it’s printed on.”
“It was created in (around) 1995, creating a benchmark of $100,000 that has never been indexed,” he said. “If it were indexed, it would be $140,000 and change and I’d have 169 people on the list. Police officers get a fair compensation package that is in line with other ‘blue collars,’ like carpenters and plumbers. We do a difficult job.”
A Toronto associate professor in economics said the “Sunshine List” is misleading in that it implies those who make $100,000 are rich.
Peter Dungan, who teaches at the University of Toronto, said with a 2% compounded inflation rate, $100,000 in 1996 – when the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act came in place – would be equivalent to around $141,705 in 2014.
The threshold is certainly above the median income of $40,000 or $50,000, Dungan said Friday.
“But it’s not riches,” he said. “There are a lot of people in a lot of sectors that make roughly $100,000 or a bit more. It doesn’t put you in the 1%, let’s put it that way.”
The professor said the government should take into account and update the Sunshine List number annually to better accurately reflect variables, such as cost of living, especially in expensive cities such as Toronto, and how strong the dollar performs.
“It wouldn’t be a bad idea,” he said. “There’s no good reason from an economist’s viewpoint to publish (the list), especially to do it for one sector and not another — government vs. non-government. One of the dangers of this list is governments will be inhibited from paying higher salaries to people they’d like to hire because of their talent that you may be starving the public sector of talent.”
The province, however, has no plans to adjust the $100,000 figure.
“Disclosure of public sector salaries for those earning over $100,000 is part of the government’s commitment to being accountable, open, and transparent,” said Ministry of Finance spokesman Scott Blodgett. “The government has no plan to change the threshold.”
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