City spends over $750,000 on outside lawyers

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Aerial shot City Hall (Dan Gray/SaultOnline.com)

In a discussion with citizens last week, Councillor Luke Dufour highlighted this statistic while explaining some of the City’s response to abandoned buildings and crime.

He was explaining his position and why he thought spending $175,000 on two new positions made sense versus the city’s current strategy.

“We spend $800,000 a year contracting out legal services for the City. So, we pay other lawyers around town 800 grand a year for stuff we don’t have the time or expertise to do. And we pay between two and $400 an hour to all of those other legal firms,” said Dufour.  “Our legal department ran all the numbers they did like the electricity, the salary, rent, everything are all in in house legal fee is about $75 an hour. So, we’re less than half the cost. If we just hire one more lawyer, and they can take some of this work. Some of it still has to go outside. You’re never going to hire every expert. Like, you could save it in one year.”

Those numbers were confirmed by City Solicitor, Kathy Fields.

“I’ve worked out what our billable rate would be. It’s the way lawyers talk about what they bill. So, given the hours that we work and the salaries that we make, our billable rate for those hours would be somewhere between $72 and $85 an hour,” said Fields to council. “That’s from our junior lawyer to our most senior paid, whereas when we go to outside counsel, we pay anywhere between $275 an hour to $450 an hour. So, it’s a significant difference.”

The proposal, attached to last year’s budget, explained why the legal department needs more help.

“Our services are covering expanding areas of the law that we had never given advice and assistance on before, and we have increased requests for assistance and legal work. We cannot sustain this level of service without a third lawyer,” said the presentation to council.  “We would like to move our current prosecutor into the third lawyer position. We would then hire a new prosecutor to take over the current prosecutor’s role. The City is adding employees, adding sub departments and adding projects. The Legal team needs to expand to be able to continue to cover these needs.”

According to the City’s account of the budget meeting, available here on Youtube, at 4:37:34 you can see only Councillors Nero, Dufour and Vezeau-Allen voted to have an extra legal team member.

The proposal for the part-time bylaw officer to work with the IMET team and have more “boots on the ground” was defeated with a bit of controversy. At 4:42:00 Mayor Christian Provenzano asked who supported that proposition.

You can see, initially, Councillor Matt Shoemaker appears to show support, which, along with councillors Dufour, Scott, Hillsinger, Christian and Vezeau-Allen would have been enough to pass.

Shoemaker seemingly then takes his hand down and says he may have waved his hand but didn’t intend to vote in the affirmative in that moment.

With the added work that the new property standards by-law has put on the legal department, you can rest assured that this ask will come back before council again this year.

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