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Canada: Penetanguishene staffing on council’s minds during budget talks

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Staffing was the hot topic of the most recent draft budget for Penetanguishene, and there were no easy answers to the questions asked.

At the recent special committee of the whole meeting for the third draft of the town’s 2023 budget, the $75,000 request of the Penetanguishene Public Library board for a full-time staff member as an 18% budget increase was debated along with a municipal public works request for a $31,000 full-time staff position to combine a harbour master and winter road patroller into one role.

While the two positions came from outside the presented budget, the key difference was that the staff request would be accountable to the municipality while the library board position would be accountable to the library board.

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Deputy Mayor Dan La Rose remained unconvinced of the justification for the library position.

“They were given the same opportunity,” said La Rose, “the same timing as every other board, every other department. They came with their best case forward, I would imagine; why wouldn’t they?

“I think we need to let them know that an 18% increase is not justified for what they were asking.”

A motion to keep the library board operating budget request at a zero per cent increase, to stay at its 2022 budget request allocation, was defeated by council.

Coun. Bonita Desroches stated she would not support the 18% increase of the library position as they had presented it, and looked to council to have another “robust” presentation from the board to justify their position. Mayor Doug Rawson questioned why the board would need to make a presentation when council had effectively approved their request.

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“From my understanding, this budget isn’t approved until it’s approved… which is not today,” challenged Desroches. She added, “it could get defeated at the next stage if after their presentation it doesn’t fulfill the requirements.”

Council passed the motion for the board to appear prior to the next budget meeting.

La Rose addressed the next item, being the harbour master and winter road patrol consolidation request from staff, as a similar problem.

“For the life of me I’ve spent the last week and a half looking at it, and I do not understand how those two jobs could be combined, or why they should be full-time,” La Rose said.

CAO Jeff Lees and public works director Bryan Murray repeated points of their previous explanation where the current part-time harbour master was a seasonal six-month contract and the winter roads patroller was a five-month contract plagued with frequent staff turnover; one full-time position to cover both aspects would provide a 12-month role with benefits, which could be offered to candidates as incentive for job retention and to reduce training costs.

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“We’ve been fortunate to have the same harbour master for the last six years, but the same can’t be said for the road patrollers which are rotational every year,” Murray explained. “We have to train and hire road patrollers every year. Very few come back.”

Council members agreed to the importance of both jobs individually. Desroches stated that if the town really wanted to make the dock area as a central focus then a knowledgeable harbour master would be a full-time position.

La Rose also heralded the harbour master position and its required knowledge base, but the connection of the two jobs evaded him.

“What does (harbour master) have in common with the person that also has to be a winter road patroller, going out at three o’clock in the morning and deciding that our roads need to be plowed?”

Other budget items steered the conversation away from discussion of the role, with council agreeing to review the matter at the next draft budget meeting.

Of interest was a request by Rawson to Murray regarding the budget allocation for roads, and whether it was enough to meet the needs of the residents over the winter.

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“This is one area I’m hearing loud and clear from the community that this is one area we don’t want to cheap out on,” said Rawson.

Murray responded: “The news that has been surfacing recently as a result of staffing absences that we’ve had in the roads division, and reverting back from our two-shift system to our single-shift system that we’ve had in place over many years up until the last couple of winter seasons.

“To clarify, we will be able to meet our winter maintenance requirements with this single-shift model that we’ve temporarily put in place,” Murray emphasized.

Updated information on the 2023 draft budget deliberations can be found on the Town of Penetanguishene budget web page.

A link to the budget draft #3 report can be found on the agenda page of the Town of Penetanguishene website.

Archives of the budget discussions within the special committee of the whole meeting are located on the Town of Penetanguishene YouTube channel.

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,

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