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Looking for fairness

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario is calling on Queen’s Park to make the province’s arbitration system more efficient, transparent and accountable as they try to represent local taxpayers.

With Waterloo Region waiting on an arbitrator to sort out the latest police contract, there is an interest in seeing the issues resolved before that judgment is passed down.

As outlined in last week’s Kitchener Post, the costs of policing have far outstripped inflation. Contracts can piggyback on judgments made in other municipalities that have much different circumstances and priorities than those in Waterloo Region.

Arbitration decisions can take more than a year to finalize, long after municipa budgets have been set. Local officials are left to deal with the issue of retroactive pay, which can total millions of dollars. They can plan a reserve for what they perceive is a fair settlement, but if an arbitrator’s decision comes in much higher than what was planned for, it can leave councils scrambling to make up the difference.

The AMO has made some reasonable requests, including streamlining the process and creating a 12-month timeline for completion of a judgment.

They’ve asked the province to consider a local municipality’s ability to pay for the settlement, and to come up with criteria to evaluate the fiscal health of a community.

They also want the arbitrators to formally acknowledge ability to pay as one of the criteria considered when reaching a final judgement.

The AMO has said this isn’t personal. It isn’t attacking emergency service personnel.

Citizens appreciate the work and understand the demands of these jobs. But they also know they’re dealing with a finite property tax base, and judgments that surpass revenues leave cities in a big hole.

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