By Harley Greenfield, Meaford Councillor
The Operations Review has been an interesting gathering of information from our Municipal staff. A team of ten hard-working, enthusiastic, dedicated local residents comprised the Citizen members of the Committee. Our CAO, Mr. Miele worked tirelessly with the group, and a hired consultant added input to the study, although the public members, in my view, performed the most duties. My thanks, and all of Councils’ appreciation should go out to the Review effort.
Although a number of my future thoughts will sound somewhat skeptical of SOME parts of the Review, I in no way mean to discount the great effort that the Review team, and their results, have generated. This document will(and already has) produced positive, progressive steps.
Many of the recommendations came as no surprise to myself. Lack of communication was noted early. A lack between Staff and Council, and the Municipality and the public was noted. I was surprised that a lack of communication between various staff levels and various departments (which I had heard often, from staff members, was not elaborated upon). Regardless, Communications’ improvement is needed, and it is a relief that it will be worked on.
Originally, the demand for a staff and service review was founded upon the belief that our Municipality was overstaffed, and savings could be materialized by cutting some positions, or perhaps re-aligning the employees to better serve, without affecting services. The idea of re-alignment, at least for the moment, seems to have been abandoned. And according to the Review, quite the opposite to reducing Staff is apparent. I certainly agree that we need a full time, experienced Treasurer. That has been a ‘given’ for a long time. Interim treasurers have done a commendable job, and our ‘volunteer’ Treasurer, Mr. Kennedy has been a Godsend. Mr. Hunks has provided very good assistance as our Deputy Treasurer. However, we definitely need someone full time in the financial office. Just examine BDO Dunwoody’s management letter to see where we are falling short, and have been for some time.
We have been without an Assistant for the Operations Dept. for several months now. No doubt, we need this position filled once more. No new staff here, only a replacement. The Operations Dept. is arguably the busiest in our community, looking after roads, bridges, culverts, water, sewers, waste management, as well as Rec and Culture. Quite agree with Review committee on this one. However, the new position of Director of Community Services is not a personal favourite.
We did have a Director of Leisure Services after amalgamation, but after that person retired, our then Operations manager assumed that role, as is the case with the present Operations manager. In my estimation, both Works and Recreation areas are operating well, although the latter has been somewhat hit by the Recession. It will take a great deal of convincing to assure me that this new director, who will come with a very high price tag, will be an overall benefit to the Municipality. The argument has been made that the Meaford Hall Manager will no longer be needed if this new position is created. That would leave the Hall with one manager, as opposed to the current two. However, the Hall will still need a Manager. Are we to believe that person will take on added responsibilities for their current rate of pay? I expect an increase would be in order- I would ask for one if my workload and responsibilities dramatically increased.
Still with the Hall, a full time Box Office opportunity is also advocated. Cannot understand why volunteers could not handle that position. They could be reimbursed with perhaps four tickets each month to performances at the Hall. Very little cost involved, and four more people in the audiences. Don’t tell me this cannot be done. Other entertainment facilities do this. Our Operations review team proved the great work a few volunteers can perform. We have people in our community who could help run the Box office! I do very much agree with a review of the marketing strategy for the Hall. Establishing a Citizens Task Force to re-examine the day to day activity of the facility is a needed venture. My hope is that members from all segments of our municipality, representing all potential users of the Hall, will come forward and be involved. And yes, the words “more Community usage” must be stressed in any deliberation.
The Review also advocated the addition of two Admin Assistants at the Administration Office on Trowbridge St. I have given support to the addition of one person, but I strongly urge that a major part of this job be to put a ‘live voice’ on the phone to incoming municipal calls. We cannot guarantee that a caller will not get a voice message when they phone the office if this new person is currently on the line, but an employee dedicated specifically to answering the phone would be a strong addition to our customer service.
Discontinuance of examination of the Paysheets at Council meetings has been recommended. I have struggled with this one. Certainly paysheets will, as I understand, still be available for Councils’ perusal, but questioning numbers at the actual meeting is not now advised. Council has been doing a much better job at asking ‘Paysheet questions’ prior to the public meeting. This practice should continue. However, if a last minute piece of information is required by a Councillor, I believe the paysheets should be included in the package, and questions should not be frowned upon.
Overall, Council was offered a Report with128 recommendations. By far the vast majority of them were commendable.
Can we establish new positions and hire more Staff and stay within our 5% blended tax increase(remembering that increase represents approximately 11% at the lower tier level) suggested for the next 4 years? If that is possible, I can perhaps agree to additional Staff positions. If not, I will be very hard pressed to agree to additional expenses for our already suppressed taxpayers. We have been fortunate the last two years that the Federal and provincial government have been generous with stimulus monetary support. But, with both upper levels of government now running huge deficits, that funding will not likely be so attainable. Will Grey County tax increases remain minimal? The Ontario Municipal Partnership Funding is being depleted. How much will that affect our coffers? At budget time, which for 2010 is already upon us, we must be very careful with our committed expenses. Any additional factors could be devastating to our current plan to eliminate our deficits and debt. Mr. Miele. Our new Treasurer, and all Senior Staff will need to be very careful with their budget figures. Can Revenues be increased to offset potential new expense?
Hopefully, but the revenues increase should not be in Taxes charged. And increasing revenues in a depressed economy will not be easy, although there are areas such as economic development charges that could be higher.
The only aspect of the review procedure that I was disappointed with was that Council members did not have their opportunity to sit down with the Public committee for an hour or so and express personal concerns (and compliments). I feel this would have provided a more complete insight in to our staff and service levels. The original idea by some council members to attempt to cut some positions from Staff had nothing to do with cutting services, only a more efficient manner of delivery. But let us put those feelings of some Council members (myself included, and I see no reason to deny that) behind, and move forward into 2010. As I stated at our last Council meeting, regardless of what our Council feels about the Review Report, it will be the citizens of our fine municipality who have the final say concerning the Report.
And that day will come in eleven months from now, when the next Municipal election is held. In the meantime, I invite as many of our residents as possible to check out the Report. Read it, evaluate it, let your elected representatives (NOT your Municipal staff members) know your thoughts. After all, we as your Council members are here to represent you. If we do not hear from you, it is very difficult to know your thoughts.
Submitted respectively, Harley Greenfield, Councillor, Municipality of Meaford