An OC Transpo strike that stalled public transit in Ottawa for almost two months in the dead of winter cost the city $5.9 million, according to the latest report by the city's auditor general.

The hefty bill is due to a combination of decreased revenue and high costs to accommodate residents who relied on public transit, as well as financial penalties for OC Transpo's bus fuel contract, said Auditor General Alain Lalonde.

Even though buses sat blanketed in snow for weeks, the city was forced to pay $855,000 in penalties for fuel that was never used.

Taxi chits for transit users who needed to get to and from medical appointments during the strike also cost the city about $1 million. However, some of those taxi chits are being contested.

City workers abuse sick leave

Lalonde also highlighted the abuse of sick leave by municipal workers, many of whom called in sick to extend days off on the weekends and statutory holidays.

The average city employee takes 10.6 days of sick leave per year, costing the city $27.8 million, said Lalonde. That data includes all leave for short-term disability, which covers certified and uncertified leave.

It excludes absences related to:

  • Workplace Safety and Insurance Board injuries or illness,
  • long-term disability claims,
  • or absences related to a declared disability.

Lalonde says the real concern is people who abuse the system, taking a few sick days "here and there."

"It's not the person who goes to the hospital or have accidents," he said.

"A lot of the sick days are being taken by people who are extending long weekends and taking regular sick days and that needs to be improved in terms of monitoring."

Some medical certificates that were accepted by managers were also questionable, he said.

"We found some medical notes that the doctor hadn't seen the patient."

After speaking to city managers, Lalonde said it appears that many employees consider sick leave something they are entitled to, even when they're healthy.

"Some people think it's okay to (take sick leave) throughout the year, it's part of their benefit. Definitely, there's a shift in culture we need to start addressing."

City workers take leave to work second job

In the city's traffic operations division, Lalonde said several employees -- who were among the city's highest overtime earners - were moonlighting.

The report revealed the manager hired city employees to also work for a private company that he owns.

Lalonde said nine employees in the department took sick days at the city and instead worked at their manager's company: Partham Engineering. The employees billed for both jobs at the same time.

One employee took 11 sick days from the city and billed Partham Engineering for six of those days.

Through restructuring the city manager has since been let go. However, the employees that were 'moonlighting' are still employed with the city.

The manager of Public Works says there are measures in place to prevent similar situations from happening again.

Emergency response

Lalonde says the city must also adopt a new system to prioritize dispatch calls for paramedics.

In 2007, 85 per cent of all 911 calls were deemed to be life-threatening. However, only a quarter of those calls actually were.

Lalonde said the city needs to change the current dispatch system to free up ambulances already in high demand.

Coun. Diane Deans said the city has already asked the provincial government for permission to change the dispatch system.

Although Lalonde's dispatch recommendation requires negotiation with the province, many of his other recommendations have already been put in place.

With a report from CTV Ottawa's Kate Eggins