For the second time in a month Cramahe councillors were surprised by a last-minute recommendation. Last month it was a proposal for a $20,000 external review of the Public Works Department. At the Cramahe Township budget meeting on March 6, Fire Chief Brandon Northrup proposed that a full-time position of assistant fire chief be added. The person filling the proposed position would do the the work of two men in the fire department, assist Chief Building Official Natalie Moroz-Cornell, answer daytime medical assist calls, and replace a volunteer who currently is paid to do 14 hours a month maintenance on fire vehicles.
The chief had an elaborate means of paying for the position. The two part-time fire department positions which cover fire prevention and staff training would go, saving $20,000 annually. By having the new person and the chief answer medical assist calls during daytime hours, additional savings would be made. Currently all firefighters who are able respond to the calls. These calls have made upo 48% of the total calls to the department in the past two years. This approach would allow the chief to shrink the force by five members through attrition, from 35 to 30.
It was also suggested that the township could use savings made in 2013 to pay for the job. When Rebecca Goddard-Sarria was released in a restructuring move, her salary was set aside and $65,000 was kept in the budget but not spent. The suggestion to use some of that money came as a surprise to some who thought the money was earmarked to cover short-staffing in the Public Works Department.
In fact, Councillor Ed Van Egmond alluded to that understanding when he asked during the debate, whether the person would be able to fill in when a Works Department staffer was ill. He was assured that it could be done in an emergency as it would not be taking a unionized Works job. That didn't suit the councillor who offered that driving a plough requires training.
The new person would be trained as the alternate building official, allowing Ms. Moroz-Cornell to take a real vacation. Currently, because there is no replacement, she takes a day of two at a time, and, outside of Christmas, hasn't had a full week off in nine years. The person could also help clear up the 400 open permits which Ms. Moroz-Cornell claims need to be closed. When a major proposal hits her desk, other work can be left for up to three days.
Chief Northrup attempted to show that the addition of the position would not cost taxpayers anything extra this year, through the staff savings and scrimping in some other areas. The total cost for six months, including benefits, would be $39,000.
That caught the attention of the only member of the public in attendance at the meeting. Peggy Klem asked if this was the beginning of a slippery slope to a fully paid force. She was assured that, given the number of calls annually, that would not happen.
She also persisted in establishing the actual annual cost of a new staff person. Based on the numbers presented at the meeting she offered that the job would cost taxpayers $80,000 per year.
This was contested by staff who referred her to the salary range of $59,500 - $75,380.
But Ms. Klem persisted, noting that the salary did not include pension and benefits.
Treasurer Mora Chatterson confirmed that benefits add about another 25% to the total. If the person were hired at the base rate, the total cost would be in the $75,000 range.
But Ms. Klem was not alone in her criticism.
Some on council felt blindsided by the proposal which came to the table at the start of the first budget meeting for 2014.
Councillor Van Egmond called the proposal pie in the sky, trying to find a person with the necessary qualifications. He understood the need for staff, but not this. This would require comic strip character, Superman to do the five jobs in the proposed job description.
To which, CAO Christie Alexander stated the township would train the person in the missing skills.
Councillor Clinton Breau agreed with Mr. Van Egmond, telling the chief that positions with disparate requirements had failed before. He pointed to the joint fire chief, bylaw officer position filled temporatrily by Jim Harris, and to the joint bylaw officer planning official job held by Alison Torrie-Lapaire. Mr. Breau went further to offer there were other solutions to the staffing problem presented by the chief building official. Hiring contract workers, and sharing with other municipalities were among the possibilities.
Mr. Breau was also concerned about hiring someone who did not have all the qualifications. The township then pays the person and pays for the training.
Later in the discussion Chief Northrup stated there were a few people in his department who had the required qualifications.
In a further comment, Ms. Klem provided a comparison for council to consider. Part of the new job would be to complete many of the 800 burn application forms when people come into the office requesting to have an open fire. She offered that paying someone $60,000 plus benefits to complete routine paperwork would be like hiring a teacher to fill out late slips.
The option of hiring two people part time was considered briefly.
Mayor Marc Coombs stated that it was not realistic as the hours in the building official's assistant job would vary from week to week.
Deputy mayor Jim Williams seemed to be in favour of the chief's proposal, supporting his opiniojn with the feeling that a half-time assistant for the chief building official would not be warranted unless building grew greatly in Cramahe. Extra help could only be given as part of another position and this seemed logical.
Councillor Pat Westrope summarized the discussion, suggesting that the township go back to the drawing board on this idea. There was clearly no consensus.