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Inflation results in salary increases for county employees

Perth County council approved a sharp adjustment to salaries based on high inflation, and received an update on the provincial government's taxation review
Perth County building

After a record-high year of inflation, Perth County council approved a remarkably high increase to staff salaries.

At the Aug 4 council meeting, council approved a 5.54 per cent adjustment to the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), after a year of high inflation.

COLA is an annual, standard process applied to the salary grid, as set out by the county's human resources salary administration policy. The calculation is based on an average Consumer Price Index (CPI) during the year – noting price changes for Canadian consumers.

In 2022, the COLA adjustment for Perth was just 1.46 per cent.

The Bank of Canada has been increasing interest rates to curb the staggering levels of inflation and, as noted by the report presented to council, the inflation rate will hopefully decrease over the next year or two. Inflation will hopefully peak in June 2022 with decreases over the next 12 to 24 months with more interest rate increases to come, according the report.

The COLA adjustment this year results in a $340,000 increase to the 2023 budget for non-union salaries.

Council accepted the report and approved the rate of 5.54 per cent as an increase to the county non-union salary and remuneration for members of council and committees, effective next January.

Taxation and assessment review ‘going nowhere anytime soon’

After directing staff to investigate the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) and the provincial government's review on municipal taxation, Manager of Finance/ Treasurer Corey Bridges prepared an update for council. The review was prompted by the province to “enhance the accuracy and stability of assessments, support a competitive business environment, (and) strengthen the governance and accountability of MPAC.”

MPAC is an independent not-for-profit funded by Ontario municipalities to assess properties in the province. They are held accountable by the province, municipalities, and taxpayers.

Through this review, county finance staff informed the province that delays in reassessment “have created inaccuracy and instability within the property tax system,” according to the report. They inquired about the results of consultations on a provincial level.

In December of last year, North Perth Mayor and Perth County Coun. Todd Kasenberg attended a session with MPAC and finance staff from North Perth and the county. In January, a delegation from the county attended the Rural Ontario Municipalities Association (ROMA) meeting to discuss these issues.

As indicated in the report, the county continues to “work with (the) Province of Ontario and MPAC staff to provide input through the lens of a rural and urban mixed municipality and the challenges these types of municipalities face.”

Dep. Warden Rhonda Ehgoetz asked if they were any closer to the province doing the assessment for residential and before staff could respond, Warden Jim Aitcheson jumped in.

“I can answer that one,” he said. “Your guess is as good as anybody else’s … I had a discussion with MPAC about a month ago … it's going nowhere anytime soon.”

Tender awards for winter maintenance and highway salt

Council awarded a three-year contract to Steed and Evans Limited for winter maintenance operations. Steed and Evans had the higher rate of the two tenders that were submitted. Their rate is $248/hr while The Murray Group Limited rate is $225/hr.

As the report notes, however, the “county would give preference to vendors which submit bids to maintain two plow routes while meeting the minimum equipment requirement standards.” Steed and Evans Limited have all the requirements to perform the contracted work. According to estimates, the value for this season will be $322,000 and will increase by 2 per cent annually next November. Steed and Evans Limited have a $108/hr increase over last year’s contract.

Issues arose in the conversation around the dramatic increase in price. Though there are impacts to bringing such a service ‘in house,’ there was interest in pursuing such a method in the future. Coun. Kasenberg suggested adding an additional resolution to direct staff to investigate bringing winter maintenance into the county portfolio. Coun. Robert Wilhelm added that the lower tiers should also have a hand in coordinating the work. The motion passed with staff having until the first quarter of next year to provide their report.

Council also awarded Bossence and McCann Inc. the contract of delivery and hauling of bulk highway salts. Bossence and McCann had the low bid, which staff were satisfied with. They previously held a contract with the county and had “met or exceeded” expectations. Their unit price per tonne ranges from $7.64 in Mitchell to $12.68 in Perth East. Stratford’s price is $11.25.

The price discrepancies are based on distances from storage facilities.

That price point results in an estimated $122,900 cost for the 2022/23 winter season. Similar to the winter maintenance contract, Bossence and McCann’s rates will be adjusted annually by two per cent. With this contract there is a fuel price adjustment, which can affect the actual cost.

PC Connect update

The week of July 4-9 was ‘Free Ride Week’ for the county’s transit system, PC Connect. The week amounted to 94 per cent of the average monthly ridership, or 483 rides. Through this week, all five routes that PC Connect offers saw a 105 per cent increase in ridership since May. The county is hoping that sharp increase will have a lasting impact on long-term ridership.

The county launched the Blaise Transit app just before Free Ride Week, which allows residents to book their ride, pay their fare, and track their bus. Four hundred profiles have been created and 394 rides were completed through this service. According to their Economic Development and Tourism quarterly update, staff are continuing to work with the app developers to create new features.