PAUL FORSYTH/Niagara This Week
Firefighters, police officers, registered nurses, bean counters and professors were among the ever-growing list of Niagara residents who can boast they’re now members of the so-called Sunshine List club.
The province released its list on Friday of public sector workers in Ontario who cracked the $100,000-a-year ceiling in annual pay in 2011, and despite tough financial times there’s no shortage of people bringing home the bacon.
In Niagara, which has the dubious distinction of having one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, one of Ontario’s lowest average household incomes and welfare applications that have soared 41 per cent since the economic meltdown in 2008, no less than 1,684 public sector workers now bring home six figures, up from about 1,552 last year.
Those figures don’t include people in some categories, such as judges, justices of the peace, senior employees with the Local Health Integration Network that Niagara is part of, and Niagara’s members of provincial parliament.
Topping the list of all money makers is someone who wasn’t even working for her former employer for almost the entire year in 2011.
Debbie Sevenpifer, who was fired as president and chief executive officer of the Niagara Health System by the NHS board in January of 2011, is listed as having made $618,300 last year.
Welland riding New Democratic MPP Cindy Forster called that figure outrageous. She said it isn’t clear if that’s a severance package, since the NHS hasn’t released details of the terms of Sevenpifer’s departure. The previous year, Sevenpifer pulled in $351,000.
“The residents of Niagara Region should be outraged,” she said. She said Ontario’s minister of health should be ensuring that kind of money is going into front-line health services when people in Niagara are waiting for long-term care beds to free up, or languishing on cots in emergency rooms.
Forster called the fat severance packages being handed to top CEOs in Ontario, compared to the modest ones expected to be given to slot machine operators who will lose their jobs when provincial slot machines are removed from the Fort Erie Race Track, hard to fathom.
“There’s something wrong with the picture,” she said.
In total, the NHS had 203 people who pulled in more than $100,000 last year, including several pathologists — highly educated and skilled specialists — who made more than $300,000 each.
Jane Rufrano, chief executive officer of the Hotel Dieu Shaver Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. Catharines, pulled in $249,793 plus about $13,000 in taxable benefits in 2011.
For sheer numbers, no Niagara organization came close to having so many Sunshine Club members as Brock University, where the previous year’s 433 members rose to 502 people making $100,000 or more in 2011. Top earner at Brock was president Jack Lightstone, who made $333,567 plus about $16,000 in taxable benefits.
At Niagara College, president Dan Patterson was the top earner of the 114 Sunshine Club members, making $329,223 plus about $2,000 in taxable benefits.
John Crocco, education director at the Niagara Catholic District School Board where 102 people were on the list, made $208,516 plus about $11,000 in taxable benefits. His counterpart at the District School Board of Niagara, education director Warren Hoshizaki, made $242,481 with no taxable benefits. The DSBN had 203 people on the list
Not counting Niagara Regional Police staff, whose pay comes from the Region, there were 85 regional employees who made the list. Regional chief administrative officer Mike Trojan pulled in $240,948 plus about $14,000 in taxable benefits, just ahead of the medical officer of health and associate medical officers of health.
At the NRP, 302 people were at $100,000 or more, with Police Chief Wendy Southall tops at $257,806 plus about $28,000 in taxable benefits.
At the town and city level, 173 people made $100,000 or more in the 12 municipalities. In the biggest three cities of Welland, St. Catharines and Niagara Falls, firefighters comprised the lion’s share of those in the Sunshine Club.
The $100,000 threshold hasn’t changed since it was introduced way back in 1996. The Ontario Ministry of Finance said with inflation, that number would now be at $139,000. If the threshold had kept pace with inflation, the Sunshine List would be 78 per cent shorter than it is now, the ministry said.