Saint John misleading public about police costs, says union


Saint John and the union representing city police officers are haggling over whether wages for the force have gone up 40 per cent or 50 per cent in the last decade.

The union has even accused the city of misleading the public on the issue of officers’ wages.

Saint John city management and the police do agree on one thing, however, the base salary for a first class constable is $85,519.

‘Clearly they’re trying to mislead the public.’– Bob Davidson, New Brunswick Police Association

That figure is about 40 per cent more than the $61,173 salary paid a first class constable in 2005.

But city managers have said repeatedly the true wage and benefit costs have risen more than 50 per cent since that time.

Coun. David Merrithew, the chair of the city’s finance committee, said he believes city officers did a good job.

“But they’re also six-figure people now. A sergeant with wages and benefits working for the police force, it’s a $125,000 and $130,000 now.”

The current base salary for a city police sergeant is $92,296 according to the collective agreement.

Coun. David Merrithew, the chair of the city’s finance committee, said he believes city officers did a good job. He also called officers “six-figure people.” (CBC)

But other costs do add considerably to the city’s expenditures.

In response to a request from CBC, the city has broken down “payroll costs” for a first class constable.

They appear to show the $85,000 salary ends up costing the city $135,000 a year when you take into account fringe benefits and other payments.

But one category stands out on the cost list: a $15,746 expenditure under the heading “Pension Special Payments.” That expenditure represents 17 per cent of the base salary.

“Clearly they’re trying to mislead the public,” said Bob Davidson, a labour analyst with the New Brunswick Police Association, a union affiliated group.

In late 2012, city unions agreed to give up their defined benefit pensions in exchange for a shared risk plan.

Under the deal, which was brokered by the province, the city would then make a series of temporary annual payments to erase a large deficit in the employee pension fund.

Davidson said he believes the city allowed the pension deficit to accumulate over many years and should not be representing the special payments as part of the salary and benefits package for police officers today.

“When we saved the City of Saint John multiple millions of dollars changing from a defined pension benefit plan to shared risk, they’ve now downloaded that special payment into the wages and salary components,” said Davidson.

As a share of the city’s overall operating budget the police and fire budgets are about the same as they were 10 years ago.

But both departments have considerably reduced their numbers over that period.

There are now 15 fewer full time firefighters and 15 fewer police officers.