Fire Arbitration Decision Burns Public


The following is in response to the media’s question, “what is‘s reaction to the recent arbitrated award concerning the Corporation of The Town of Midland and Midland Professional Fire Fighters Association- Fire Services”?

We reviewed the most recent arbitration decision between Midland and its Fire Service.  We are shocked that in this day and age, an agreement covering the last 4 years, negotiated or arbitrated, would retroactively award any group of employees pay increases in the 3-4% range annually.  Simple math suggests an added $200,000- burden to the already strapped Midland taxpayer.  To make matters worse the agreement has now elapsed as of December 31, 2012.

Town employees, Teachers, Doctor’s and other professional groups, whose salaries are paid for by the taxpayers at large have witnessed their pay packages get reset as a result of the troubled economic times. Why not Midland Police and Midland Fire? Are they unique and immune to the financial constraintsthe rest of the community endures?

Interest arbitration boards give significant weight to the terms and conditions, specifically pay and related benefits, that are in effect at the time with Police.  Unbelievably, the Midland Police Services Board set the stage for the Fire agreement when they negotiated a 4% increase for its members in respect of 2013. This in our view is most irresponsible on two fronts; first it is excessive by any reasonable standard; and second, it served as a benchmark for Fire during this set of discussions.  Midland Fire, as we now know, conveniently took their case to interest arbitration in July of last year, knowing that the Board of Arbitration would reference and importantly, give consideration to the negotiated Police settlement.  The notion of benchmarking dissimilar comparators and chasing artificial ceilings is frightening. Costs simply keep going up; up at a time when people in the community simply can’t afford it.

Remember, Midland’s Fire department and Police force serve and support a town that boasts virtually no growth. No growth in population should mean no growth in their annual operating budgets. KPMG pointed out that Midland resides in the high tax, low-income box, a place you’d only want to reside if you like train wrecks. Many of our residents are retirees on fixed incomes, and those that are fortunate enough to find gainful employment here in Midland earn significantly less money than the Simcoe County average. Furthermore our taxes are already one of the highest amongst any and all comparators and in a phrase, “are off the chart”!

Arbitration Award Highlights:

a) Midland inexplicably didn’t argue “an ability to pay” in front of the Board of Arbitration. KPMG six weeks earlier stated that Midland was on a problematic spending trajectory that required swift action. Simply stated, we have no more money to give and if these employees of the town want more, then we must change the service delivery model which invariably will result in reducing the workforce, both management and non-management personnel.

b) Midland argued that the term of the contract cover the period from 2009-2010 only. The Board in its naive wisdom concluded that it needed to go out to 2012 to preserve harmonious labor relations and so ordered the change in scope.

c) The cumulative salary increase awarded over this 4-year period provides for an approximate 14% increase to the base pay of a first class Fire Fighter.  Base Pay moves from $72,095 in July 01/2008 to $83,048 paid in October 30/2012. Believe it or not, the union representatives demanded more. Add another 30%+ for benefits and we witness some very attractive total compensation packages, well over a $100,000 annually. Again, in very turbulent economic times when everyone else is cutting back.

d) If this wasn’t enough, the arbitration Board decided to support the Firefighters union’s demand and increased vision care and several other medical/fringe benefits.

e) The union also demanded an increase to rank differentials and the board agreed. This decision effectively provides an additional pay increase for the Fire Training Officer, the Fire Prevention Officer and the Fire Captains effective January 01/2013. This increase of $2491- (3%) annually added on top of their new base equates to a starting salary of $95,505.20 for these three positions, excluding benefit costs.

The Town’s representative on the Board (Riddell) argued against the high salary award. He said, ” The chair has ignored other statutory criteria, especially the criterion of the economic situation in Ontario and in the municipality”. Riddell goes on to say, “I respectfully contend the Chair should have awarded wage increases that are more reflective of the settlements and arbitration awards in the broader public sector in Ontario. There are no compelling reasons why the Police and Fire Sector settlements and arbitration awards should be immune from the economic realities affecting all public sector bargaining in Ontario”, end quote. There you go; one out of three get it, but not enough to make a difference. At the end of the day, we are left footing the bill.

Keep in mind through all of this that Midland Fire ranks amongst the highest in spending per household in over 20 communities surveyed in Simcoe County, Toronto, York and Peel regions.

Going Forward:

Don’t forget, this recent four-year award expired December 31/2012.  Given this reality, the Fire Union will likely give notice to bargain in the weeks ahead, and likely in a year or two, we’ll find ourselves back in front of an arbitration panel who reside somewhere in Lala land.

Midland community suggests:

1) The Town of Midland must make the ability to pay argument right from the outset.

2) Require the removal of the no lay-off clause. We have no idea what the World, and especially Midland, will look like financially and economically in three to four years time.

3) Negotiate away the minimum required number of suppression staff – currently 10. We’ll need to change the ratio of full-time to volunteer staff if we are to sustain any reasonable service model given our need to control costs.

4) Focus on building Volunteer capability so that they can seamlessly fill any gaps in performance duties as a result of point 3 above.

5) Reduction and consolidation of top-heavy positions.

In closing, we suggest Midland Council get ahead of the issue with both Police and Fire and map out a win-win strategy. No more 3.5%- 4% annual pay increases. It’s time to put a stake in the ground.

These two departments, Fire and Police, need to play on the bigger team. It’s unfair that Parks, Public works, Planning, Library, Museum, and other Departments have to suck it up each and every year. It’s even more unfair that the taxpayers of Midland subsidize bad decision making. It’s a new day. Let’s get Fire and Police back on Team Midland.

Roy Ellis and Stewart Strathearn on behalf of

14 Comments on "Fire Arbitration Decision Burns Public"

  1. Mary Gerrard | March 5, 2013 at 6:06 pm | Reply

    I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on successfully bashing, teachers, cops, nurses, firefighters, doctors and other professional groups who you obviously feel are overpaid. Not to mention all of the council, police service board members, arbitrators and the lawyers, oh yes and all of the residents who are proud to grow up and live in this “train wreck of a town”. Well done, a true demonstration of your class.

    • Mary,
      The town is broke in more ways than one!!! I don’t think you are seeing whats really happening. I don’t think you are paying $10,000 a year in property taxes and then have the police complain about patrolling our area!!! You can “BASH” all you want about what the Midland Community guys are trying to accomplish. Have you read the local paper lately about OUR Fire Chief. Are you missing something. Maybe you are not fully informed!!! Whether you like it or not….you have benifited from the POSSITIVE actions of the Midland Community guys. I APPLAUD THEM FOR THEIR EFFORTS. Midland is truly in need of better direction as the “people” at the top don’t really know what to do…LOST PUPPIES.

  2. I don’t normally chime in on such discussions however I feel my story needs to be told.
    I have been a member of the midland community for nearly 63years.
    Last year I had a major medical issue and I truly believe that without the fast response and service that the Midland firefighters provided I would not be here today. I was told after the fact that they responded within 3 minutes of the 911 call. I know I would not be here today if it weren’t for the men on shift that night. I believe as a taxpayer we pay for the service we get. Can you put a price on someone’s life? Let’s get stats and opinions about how many lives have been saved by our Midland firefighters and how many times they risk their own lives to protect others.
    I again cannot express how truly grateful my family, neighbours and friends are to the Midland firefighters. I will always be indebted to you all. I want to hear from other members of our community who have had a life saving experience because of our Midland firefighters.

    • Nice story. Not sure what it has to do with level of payment of firefighters. Unless you are suggesting that if you pay them less, they would take longer to get there.

      • Dave, it was a great experience for me and my family. it may not have anything to do with how much they make, but it does speak to how professional, proficient, and fast the full-time firefighters were with me and there are something’s to be said for that. Midland community has eluded to removing the full-time positions, and replacing them with volunteers. To answer your question I do feel that not having them at the fire station ready to respond, would take them longer to respond.

  3. Mary Gerrard | March 6, 2013 at 8:14 am | Reply

    I am more than informed, I also recall when council spoke about this and when asked, the treasurer stated that the town has been putting money aside for this arbitration and that the money set aside should cover the award. Which throws the ability to pay argument out the window.

    If you are paying $10,000 a year for taxes you have far more money than will ever, so clearly your opinions are more important than mine!!!!!

  4. | March 6, 2013 at 8:29 am | Reply

    Thanks Mary.

    Once again, you misread the essence of the paper. We start by acknowledging those professions whose compensation has been constrained by tough economic times, yet are forced to watch significant increases paid out to Fire as a result of a flawed process. We end by pointing out the inequity of such large awards to Fire when all other Municipal Departments must adjust to operate within the new fiscal reality. As we said in our piece ‘Let’s get Fire and Police back on Team Midland’.

    I doubt any Midland resident, including you, wants to reside in the ‘high tax, low-income’ quadrant- its simply not fruitful a place to be. Of course, it goes without saying that we enjoy living in Midland, else we wouldn’t be here. Our focus, however, is those families that are struggling in these tough times.

    As always, thanks for weighing in.

    Stewart Strathearn

  5. Mary Gerrard | March 6, 2013 at 11:21 am | Reply

    I appreciate the “essence” of your response, however, the perception it creates is that you do not care about the service that is provided, so long as your taxes do not go up. Should Police officers in midland not be compensated the same way other officers are compensated? Should teachers in Midland not be compensated the same as all the other teachers in the province. Should Nurses in midland not be compensated the same way as other nurses in the province?

    Clearly you feel firefighters and police officers Midland are not worthy of being compensated in the same way.

    Why should any professions/ trades people working in the town of midland work for less. Is what they do here less important than in any other town or city? If you are a nurse in Toronto you should be paid the same as a nurse in North Bay, and the the same in Midland. I feel the same about teachers, firefighters, and police officers and trades people/ and people working in the service industry, or manufacturing sector.

    I’m not saying that these professions are not highly paid for what they do but I do feel that because they work in midland, serving the residents of midland and the surrounding municipalities that they should be paid the same as any other of those professions.

    I get that this money comes primarily from taxation and that people who have retired here are on a fixed income, but I am also aware that many of those people choose to live here because of the services provided. Many of them have sold their homes in larger cities and bought the same type of home for a fraction of the price here. Now they are paying less taxes here than in the cities they came from but receiving the same level of service. Oh and now they have money in the bank from the sale of their city home. Sounds like a good deal to me.

    I would not want to do what they do. And I can’t imagine any of you would either.

  6. Craig lives next door to the Fire Hall!
    Mary, I don’t think that you are understanding of the situation. We need Fire, Police, Nurses, etc.There is an issue about how many.
    My opinion is no more important than yours, the difference is that maybe I am more inclined to financial responsibility.
    The current council needs a lot of direction. Maybe someone wanted to be “_____” because we apparently live in paradise. After the fact maybe the person found out that he was over his head and resided to reading to school kids in his spare time, puts out a blog every sunday to justify what he’s doing the next week when the town is out of control. Someone has to step up to make a change.
    I travel the 93 in the early morning and wonder how many people DON’T live in Midland but work in Midland?
    I am what Midland people call ‘CITYOT” Maybe we are the ones that bring our resources to Midland for a better life, and are short changed. Whether I have more money than you is not relevant.
    Are you saying that it’s allright for the police to complain about patroling our area?
    We could go back and forth on this, give it up. You not on the same page.

  7. Mary Gerrard | March 7, 2013 at 7:00 am | Reply

    Financial responsibility is putting money aside for something that you are going to have to pay for later no? I my version of La La land that is what you are supposed to do and that is what the fire chief, treasurer, and council did with regards to this award. I also feel you need as many people as it takes to get the job done properly and safely. So if chief foster feels we need those bodies at the Firehall, I would suggest that he is more aware of fire related issues than you or I.
    As far as you wanting your area of town patrolled more, I agree, they should come to your area and patrol without complaining, but if they are to busy to make it out to that side of the bay, as often as you would like, than maybe we need more police officers too!!

    I agree we can go back and forth on this and dance around the issues, but please remember, just because you bark out loud to council, the media, and on this website, doesn’t make you right!

    • I think the biggest issue is the lack of financial accountability. It is not the fire chiefs money to dole out as he pleases. Is there not about the same number of firefighters on staff in Midland for 16,000 people as there is in Milton for 70,000 – 80,000 people. Is someone not really understanding the “magnitude” of the problem in Midland! It is probaly felt that he is building an “empire” at the expence of the people of Midland and at somepoint his empire is going to crumble. People have to “step up to the plate” and speak out over the “status quo”
      I DON’T need UNNECESSARY patrolling of our area. Personally I don’t feel as secure when police are constantly patrolling our street, and what a waste of our tax dollars. In paradise can we not watch out for each other?
      We need better managed departments in the town. This we don’t have and as a result the costs to the people of Midland is OUT of CONTROL.
      Maybe taxes should be pay’d not on the value of the property BUT the same amount for each and every property. Then maybe your tune will change!
      I don’t think I’m winning your vote……maybe I should go and read a few stories to the KD kids.

  8. I for one am ok with paying a little extra to have my roads plowed properly, my leaves picked up as they always have,and having a police and fire department that are well staffed and equipped. I am sure we can all sacrifice just one ride in our private plane, to compensate for any tax increase.

    Lets move on…

  9. | March 9, 2013 at 12:08 pm | Reply

    Thanks to everyone for weighing in.
    Below is additional material and clarity around the current discussion around FIRE.
    Midland has set aside reserves for the retroactive portion of the arbitrated award but according to the Town’s Treasurer it does not cover the increased cost going forward.
    Midland Fire spending increased 97% from 2000 to 2009 before this most recent increase in wages and benefits respecting years 2009-2012; this will be significant as payroll and related costs represent the majority of the operating budget
    Midland Fire spends more per resident than Toronto, Mississauga or Newmarket Toronto. Keep in mind Toronto, Mississauga and Newmarket all have significantly more growth e.g. increases in assessment.
    Midland’s growth in population, households and business is virtually flat
    Midland has high local taxes and low median incomes – virtually the lowest median incomes anywhere surveyed
    Midland has a large population of seniors many on fixed incomes
    Midland’s annual tax increase is historically far larger than assessment growth and inflation combined.
    Learn from our neighbouring communities how they keep their residents just as safe at lower cost. Look at the different delivery models they employ. It is clear to most that when you cannot grow your customer base then you have to keep cost increases under control. It is also clear to most that wage increases of 3 – 4% are unjustified in these troubled economic times and the so-called ‘system’ that has for decades given police and firefighters much higher wage increases than any other worker is broken and needs to be fixed. There are many businesses struggling to make payroll and there are many working families making tough personal choices because high local taxation fails to discriminate; property taxes impact everyone. When taxes increase more than necessary the more fortunate among us pay more but so do the poor. For the future well being of all Midland residents, we need to decide how to fix the management issues and the compensation issues that are standing in the way of a better future for all.
    Roy Ellis

  10. Mary gerrard | March 20, 2013 at 3:22 pm | Reply

    Can’t be that much of a “train wreck of a town”
    Well done midland

    “Moneysense magazine is out with the best places to live in #Canada. #Calgary is number 1, #Newmarket is 10th, #Collingwood is 54th, #Caledon is 60th, #Orillia was 66th, #Barrie 73rd and #Midland 161st” – CTV Barrie

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