The provincial sunshine list for 2012 came out on Thursday, revealing that about 37 per cent of Hamilton police officers earned more than $100,000 last year.
The number of cops in the city making six figures jumped by about 20 per cent, from about 245 in 2011 to just fewer than 300 in 2012. The Hamilton Police Service currently employs 794 officers.
Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla said he is "concerned" that the police budget, which has become a hot-button issue at council, is becoming unaffordable for Hamilton taxpayers.
"The police budget represents about 20 per cent of what people pay in [municipal] taxes, on average about $600 per household," Merulla said.
Many city councillors have been vocal opponents of the 2013 police services budget. The budget first represented a 5.25-per cent increase over 2012, and has been trimmed several times since then. Councillors have asked Chief Glenn De Caire for a 3.52-per cent increase over last year. If the police services board objects, the matter could go to provincial arbitration.
Even if council were to freeze the cop budget, the provincial arbitrator could award the police service more money for wage increases, Merulla said
"Because the municipalities are creations of the province, we are literally being abused by our creator."
Hamilton police union president Mike Thomas downplayed the report. Many officers, he said, are working overtime, which in some cases, would push their yearly earnings into six figures.
"Being understaffed, we need more call-ins," he said. "I know my members are getting called into work to meet minimum strength."
On the issue of collective bargaining, Thomas said his union does make concessions and works with city officials to seek a "made-in-Hamilton solution" in order to avoid going to arbitration.
Police salaries, he noted, reflect the risks that officers face while working, adding his members sometimes have to make "life-or-death decisions" and are subject to considerable stress.
Offering competitive pay, he said, attracts good candidates to the police force and in turn, makes the city safer and more prosperous.
"I think that having a good solid police services is healthy for the community and can help your community grow."