Sechelt wants to create 11 new positions in 2021. It remains unclear whether council will support that single year 16 percent increase over existing staff levels.
At the March 24 Committee of the Whole meeting, Human Resources Manager Lindsay Roberts put forward a prioritized list of the new staff requests. Topping that list was an engineering project manager, followed by an asset management position, a development planner, and two clerical positions. The addition of one position in parks, a summer student for the engineering department, two positions in wastewater management, and a Community Safety Coordinator for the RCMP round out the list.
If all are approved, these add-ins will cost Sechelt over $400,000 in 2021 for salary and benefits. That number is based on mid-year recruitment. Full-year costs of close to $900,000 would occur in the following year if all 2021 staffing asks are approved. Costs for the positions are likely to continue to escalate in future years, given that local governments provide regular wage and benefit adjustments to their personnel under collective agreements.
The municipality has 60 full-time positions, two part-timers and six casual employee spots. Roberts said that it was her responsibility to bring the requests forward as Sechelt is currently understaffed compared to like-sized communities. Council members requested that Roberts provide details on those comparisons and data on how Sechelt’s personnel levels have increased since 2014. That information is to be reviewed at a future committee meeting. Committee recommendations on this year’s budget levels need to be finalized by the end of April. The 2021 budget and taxation rate bylaws require adoption by May 15.
Commenting on the staffing requests, Councillor Brenda Rowe said, “as frightening as this may be, there are lots of frightening numbers out there.” Rowe stated she viewed the ask as an investment in the community.
Mayor Darnelda Siegers admitted that the calls for staff additions were “daunting.” She also remarked that the District is bringing in “a lot” of grant funding, which is paying for projects with funds from outside of its tax base. Siegers noted that staff is needed to manage these projects and the infrastructure that they create. She suggested that Sechelt look at applying for a provincial “Strengthening Community Services” grant to fund the initial two years of costs related to the RCMP support position.
Councillors Janice Kuester, Tom Lamb and Alton Toth, expressed reservations about growing expenditures on personnel by such a large amount while the community works on recovery from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lamb remarked, “I want a whole bunch of things too, but we do need to ask the community what they want and how much they are willing to pay.”
Councillor Matt McLean voiced a different view regarding staff increases. He stated that it is the community, not council, that is “pushing” for the increases. McLean said that Sechelt has “an ambitious agenda because that’s what people want us to do.”
The staff increases were part of the focus of an online budget public engagement session on March 29. Three members of the public and 10 District staff and elected officials attended the Zoom meeting. No questions from members of the public came forward related to the staffing proposal.
Video of that event and other 2021 budget-related meetings and engagement sessions can be viewed on Sechelt.ca. Connie Jordison