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Spotlight on staffing

When city council meets Wednesday to debate the city’s 2013 operating and capital budgets, it will be interesting to see what council does about the proposal to hire 23 more employees for city departments next year. This hiring proposed by senior staff has always been a likely focus for council debate – but more so after what council heard last Thursday, when public delegations questioned the number of employees at city hall.
Council was given a lot to chew on from two main sources – the Guelph Chamber of Commerce and a group called Fair Pensions for All, which has been warning of the threat to public finances posed by what it calls “gold-plated” municipal pension plans.
According to Fair Pensions for All, full-time city workers grew by a total of 44% between 2002 and 2011, and the city’s part-time and seasonal workforces grew by even larger percentages. Wages and benefits paid to city employees rose from $65 million in 2002 to $155 million in 2011, with benefit costs rising considerably faster than wages, the group says. It says fast-rising compensation costs at city hall are leading to higher taxes and user fees in Guelph.
According to the Guelph Chamber of Commerce, the city’s hiring plans for 2013 are out of line with what most Guelph businesses are doing. Local businesses are forecasting the coming year to show flat employment growth, says the chamber’s brief, which urges council to get the proposed 3.74% budget increase down closer to 2%.
Given the cost pressures facing the city in 2013, it’s quite impressive that the city’s new chief financial officer, Albert Horsman, and other city staff have managed to pare the budget to a 3.74% increase. But the fact remains that 3.74% is still above the 3% target set by council in July. It would mean a tax hike of $113 next year for the average Guelph household with a dwelling assessed at $292,000.
There are a number of ambitious and expensive hiring proposals seeking funding in 2013 – including a start on implementing a first-ever corporate technology plan for Guelph, which aims to provide easier, quicker access to city information and more opportunities for community engagement. There’s probably a good case to be made for each of the 23 proposed hirings. However, the bigger question is the big picture – are city hall staffing levels too high, too low or just right?

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