Monday, December 18, 2017

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StephenVance 540One thing that has been made perfectly clear to me since moving to this fine community a dozen years ago is that there's a small but vocal segment of the community that is prone to losing their minds if the municipality hires a staff member. I've always thought it a bit strange, given that this town is starved for jobs, especially good jobs with good pay and benefits, but it seems that for some, keeping the municipal staff as small as possible is a priority. Those folks will no doubt be concerned about council's decision on Monday to hire two new employees, but before anyone goes off half-cocked with complaints, I would ask: do we want our roads and bridges fixed or not?

I fully understand and appreciate the concerns of the budget hawks in this community who pay close attention to what this municipality spends, and the size of the municipal payroll. And I'm thankful that there are folks in the community that keep tabs on those sorts of things, but we can't simply balk at every hire proposed by the municipality, as some of the positions at any municipality are crucial, and I think council was wise at their November 13 draft budget question and answer session to get behind a proposed budget enhancement that will see two capital project managers hired.

Why are these two positions important? After years of justified complaints from residents that our roads and bridges are crumbling, this term of council has responded by significantly increasing funding for infrastructure rehabilitation projects year over year, and next year this municipality will be spending a whopping $10 million on a total of 77 capital projects, but the trouble is there's nobody on staff to manage this huge volume of expensive projects.

I'm all for keeping our municipal staff complement lean, but currently our treasurer also doubles as the Director of Infrastructure Management – two huge (and hugely important) portfolios, and our CAO has been pulling double duty covering off the responsibilities of the Director of Parks, Recreation & Culture since the position became vacant months ago. So it isn't as though staff have requested permission to hire willy-nilly. And given the large number of, and the value of, the capital projects scheduled for next year, and the expectation that there will be as many or more projects each and every year for decades to come, getting the right people and the right skills on staff will be crucial to ensure that projects are properly planned and executed, and that costs are kept in check – that's not easy to do if you don't have people overseeing those projects.

As our Treasurer/Director of Infrastructure Management conceded on Monday, this municipality has had its issues with projects being delayed, or not getting off the ground at all, and it's time we had some people to manage the projects.

As for the cost of these two new staffers, for 2018 the cost will be covered from last year's surplus, but a far more important consideration is that the total cost for these two new capital project managers going forward, including pension and benefits, will amount to less than two percent of the value of the projects that will be undertaken next year and every year to come, as the municipality attempts to conquer the massive infrastructure deficit it is facing.

In the next ten years alone roughly $113 million is required (not wanted, not desired – required) for capital infrastructure rehabilitation that has been identified – do we really want to have nobody overseeing and coordinating all of these projects that will use more that $100 million of your tax dollars? Do we really not want to have somebody responsible for all these projects, or do we just want to cross our fingers and hope it all works out?

We've all heard the expression from the business world that 'you've got to spend money to make money', while in the municipal operations world, sometimes you have to spend money to make good things happen – like the repair and rehabilitation of our 410 kilometres of roads, and the 80 or so bridges that we cross over daily in our vehicles.

Given the climate that has been set in this municipality, council, in addition to being wise, were brave in making this decision, and I hope that even those opposed to the municipality hiring any staff will take the time to understand the importance of these two new positions, and the value they will bring.

We don't need projects sitting stagnant and never getting off the ground, and we don't need road or bridge rehabilitation projects spiralling into delays and cost overruns, and the way to avoid those issues is to have knowledgeable, capable, and trained staff to take responsibility and to oversee this ever-growing list of badly needed capital infrastructure projects – and at a cost of two percent of the total value of the work to be done, it sounds like a good deal to me.


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