A municipal affairs expert says people shouldn’t think only the arbitrator is responsible for the 15 per cent raise Windsor firefighters were awarded last month.

Cheryl Collier says arbitration is “a necessary part of a bargaining process when you have essential workers in play.”

Firefighters, like police, can’t strike. But they can negotiate a new contract.

“If they got down to basics at the bargaining table in the first place it wouldn’t go to arbitration,” Collier said.

Collier said the entire process and complaints are as much political as they are financial.

“The ability to play with your tax base is a political decision. It’s not just fact based. The mayors put it forward as fact when in reality it’s a political decision,” Collier said. “When you are deciding what to spend money on — pools, for instance, like we are, or increasing the pay of firefighters — those are political decisions.

“The ability to play with your tax base is a political decision.”

“If you had some foresight, you could look ahead and budget for it,” Collier said of raises.

She said Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis isn’t alone in criticizing the arbitration process.

“It’s not like this is just happening in Windsor. I don’t think I’d get one [mayor] that’s happy with the arbitration process,” Collier said.

The three full-time firefighters in Scugog, Ont., a tiny town northeast of Toronto, won a 26 per cent raise through arbitration and now make approximately $80,000.

“Our mayor isn’t alone in this,” Collier said. “He has a lot of company.”

Collier also said arbitrators should have to write down and publicize why they make the awards they do.

Arbitrators look at tax base, unemployment rates and the city’s ability to pay, to name a few, when it comes to making a ruling.

“It would behoove the arbitrators to write out their decision,” she said.