City councillors hope to avoid cutting jobs from budget

November 30, 2009

The article below appears in the November 30, 2009 Guelph Mercury.

My comments:  Trimming staff at any level is difficult.  Efficiencies in the delivery of municipal services come in many forms and neither front line staff, union or otherwise, or managers should be specifically targeted.   The only good reason for cutting staff should be if a service is no longer provided, or if efficiencies in the delivery of a service has resulted in the need to reduce the number of staff required.

For the record, the current management (directors, managers and supervisors) to non-management ratio at the City of Guelph is 1:13.    The municipal benchmark (HRBN 2008) is 1:10.  Guelph is BELOW the municipal benchmark.

City councilors hope to avoid cutting jobs from budget

November 30, 2009

Rob O’Flanagan

roflanagan@guelphmercury.com

GUELPH — Guelph city councilors are plowing through budget documents, trying to find ways to save money and dig the city out of a massive monetary hole.

On Sunday, Ward 1 councilors Bob Bell and Kathleen Farrelly spent the afternoon engaged in the tough process. Both said they are not in favour of cutting jobs at the bottom of the city’s employment ladder.

Front-line staff should be spared, they said, while upper level management positions should be the first to be trimmed, if trimming is necessary, both said.

Bell is beginning to hear from his constituents about proposed cuts to spending and revenue generation plans aimed at addressing over $8 million in revenue reduction. Neighbourhood groups, he said, want to know their funding will continue. Others want to see a zero tax increase and more cost cutting, he added.

“Whenever you cut everything there is always somebody that says, ‘Ouch.’ That’s why they call it a cut,” said Bell. “But I think it’s important that we make the adjustments in the right place, and that we don’t cut at the bottom.

“My perception is that most of the cuts are at the bottom,” he continued, “and I don’t think that is appropriate. I think we have been adding positions at the top and we should be balancing the budget cuts throughout the structure of the city, not just at the bottom.”

Bell said there appears to be a mindset to protect salaried positions while reducing union positions. He and Farrelly want to see the mindset reversed.

“The people who are actually delivering the services are the union positions,” Bell said.

Farrelly agrees that cutting unionized positions is not a good approach for dealing with budget shortfalls. But finding a balance will be challenging, she conceded.

“What we want to do is not have people jumping out of their seats because we’ve gone haywire on the increase in the taxes,” she said.

Farrelly favours cutting positions from “upper management down, instead of having upper management top heavy.”

“The people who are working to give the good services that we hope for, they are the ones that should be considered very, very carefully before we would make cuts there,” she said.

In September, the city announced it was implementing strategies to “compensate for lower than average revenues in 2009,” city treasurer Margaret Neubauer stated in a media release.

Some projects will have to be postponed, others canceled. The elimination of 29 full-time city jobs is being contemplated.

Other proposals up for consideration are the closure of Centennial pool and the Household Hazardous Waste depot, and the elimination of yard-waste collection and sidewalk plowing in front of private properties. A delay in opening an east-end library branch is another option.

Historically low interest rates had a negative impact on the city’s investment income, Neubauer stated. Markets for recycled commodities were below average, as were sales of recycled paper, plastic and aluminum. Adding to the revenue reductions was the fact that fewer tickets and fines were issued and collected.

Postponing equipment replacements, reducing expenditures, deferring construction projects and improving purchasing efficiencies for vehicles, energy and employee benefit packages are other measures being explored.