Morinville Council challenged to do staffing review and efficiency study

By Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – Citing what he sees as escalating expenses and diminishing financial reserves, Morinville ratepayer Paul O’Dea has called upon Council to order a Staffing Levels Assessment and Operations Efficiency Review to see if the community is getting the best bang for the buck. O’Dea’s appearance was his second in as many Council meetings. This time around he delivered a 20-minute presentation outlining what he sees as the errors of Council’s way on municipal spending.

Comparing Morinville with Municipal Affairs data from Westlock, Stony Plain, Spruce Grove, Redwater, St. Albert, Devon and Edmonton, O’Dea pointed out to councillors Morinville had the second highest average tax per residence of the eight communities he presented. Morinville, at an average residential tax of $1,764.06, was second only to St. Albert at $2,517.54.

O’Dea went on to compare the residential tax rates for the eight communities and pointed out Morinville was the fourth highest in 2011 at 6.39 per cent. By comparison, that same tax rate for non-residential taxes was the lowest of the eight municipalities.

“Morinville has the lowest non-residential tax rate. If the plan is to have the lowest non-residential rate in order to attract and retain businesses, fine, but how is that plan working?” O’Dea rhetorically asked Council. “And what is being done to ensure that Morinville residents don’t carry a disproportionate amount of the tax burden?”

Using the same eight communities, O’Dea’s figures showed only three communities had a higher employee-to-resident ratio than Morinville: Spruce Grove, St. Albert and Edmonton. O’Dea said the two larger cities to the south could be reasonably pulled from the equation as city policing and public transit would require higher municipal staff than other communities.

[SUBHEAD]Staffing review required

O’Dea’s main complaint is the increase in salaries and wages in the community between 2010 and 2013. In his presentation he said salaries and wages have increased by 46 per cent in three years, far more than he feels reasonable or sustainable.

For the ratepayer the question is whether or not Morinville ratepayers are receiving the best possible value for their tax dollars. O’Dea said he has been told the better question is whether improvements can be made in how things operate.

“We are informed that this work has begun and it will evolve over the next two or three years,” O’Dea said, adding there seems to be no appetite for any external oversight. “While that may well be Council’s prerogative – the question that still remains unanswered is whether an external Staffing Levels Assessment and Operations Efficiency Review would be in the best interests of Morinville taxpayers?”

O’Dea suggested $150,000 spent on an external assessment would represent only .34 per cent of the estimated $44 million the community will spend over the next four years. It is for O’Dea money well spent as such an audit could give Council the information it needs to make decisions now rather than over three years as it evolves naturally. “If an external operations review is not in the best interests of Morinville taxpayers let’s hear why,” O’Dea said.

[SUBHEAD]Council has mixed reaction to presentation

Councillor Lisa Holmes accused O’Dea of being selective in the communities he picked for his comparisons as the list he had been provided had far more communities on it. “I do not think this is as bad as it is made out to be,” Holmes said of O’Dea’s staffing figures.

Chief Administrative Officer Debbie Oyarzun said the original list provided to O’Dea was one Morinville frequently uses when it is researching bylaws or policies. “That original list was bigger and broader for multiple purposes,” Oyarzun said. “We use that list on an ongoing basis for everything.”

Councillor David Pattison challenged O’Dea on his $150,000 figure for an assessment, asking him what he would remove from the budget to pay for it.

O’Dea said he’d like to see the Economic Development Officer position the Town is looking to fill next year be made a contracted position rather than another hire. “My point would be hold off additional staffing, do the review, reorganize as you see fit, and then proceed,” O’Dea said.

Councillor Gordon Boddez said he had asked for something like O’Dea was seeking years ago but got little support. “This is like déjà vu for me because I had suggested this about three years ago to council that we do an independent review in conjunction with our CAO at the time,” Boddez said. “But Council did not pursue it.”

Although no motion was put forward on a staffing assessment, Boddez went on later in the evening to call on Council to hold a special meeting in February to unite Council, the CAO and other stakeholders to review expenses, debentures and reserves over the next five years.

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5 Comments

  1. An operational review is a reasonable request. However, as a resident I find it disturbing that on one hand we might request that Council and Administration reduce our residential taxes and ensure that the residents are paying only a fair share but on the other hand we would suggest that we hold off hiring a much needed Economic Development Officer to keep taxes down!

    The Town of Morinville has long needed an Economic Development Officer and it is great to see that the current Council is seeking to fill this void. Without a qualified and engaged Ec Dev Officer the Town will surely miss out on the incredible opportunities that are coming to our region.

    The opportunities that will surely arrive will not land in Morinville if there isn’t a plan and adequate staff to carry it out.

    A more likely reality is that we need to manage the current task load faced by our administration and encourage commercial and industrial growth in an effort to manage our assessment woes.

  2. While I agree with much of what Troy has to say, I think that the Town should do as Paul suggests and start with a contracted Economic Development Officer for at least the first 2-3 years. Let them show what they can do for the Town that will justify their salary if a fulltime position is to be created.

    Just as Paul is saying now, I raised the flag last year (or was it the year before?) regarding Town salaries and said then that the rate of growth was unsustainable.

    We need someone experienced, trained and with the proper credentials who has demonstrated an ability to provide such guidance at a town/corporate level. $150,000 could be a great investment that could potentially save a lot more than that over the next five years. How well do we do our procurement? How well are our Accounts Payable and Receivables handled? What controls do we have in place to hire new employees? Who holds that authority? These are just a few of the questions that need to be asked. Such a review must be external so that the person conducting it has no vested interest in the report.

    I hope we do something like this, and soon.

    Brent

  3. I gotta agree with Paul (speaker at the Council meeting) and Brent. All too often we hire someone, pay them the big bucks and then find out shortly thereafter that they’re ‘not the right fit’. AND THEN, we’re stuck with a buy-out or some other costly move just to rid ourselves of someone we probably shouldn’t have hired in the first place!

    Remember folks, we STILL have no idea what this town’s unfunded pension liability is with respect to our existing staff and, with other municipalities across the country looking at bankruptcy for this very reason, I believe we’ve got to be EXTREMELY careful about hiring more folks than we can afford.

    We just cannot afford to allow ourselves to get into the same kind of jackpot jam our illustrious Provincial Government now finds itself in… no money and looking to drive us deeper in debt over infrastructure needs!

  4. I think we all agree that we need Economic Development and would also agree that the Town is in a great place to find and realize inpressive opportunities.

    The point of disagreement may simply be that I believe we need to own our Ec Dev Officer and others beleive we may need to rent one and watch and see what happens. There are good points to be made on either side of this debate, but the fact is we need to have one.

    My caution would be to say that contracting out an Economic Development Officer will be very difficult given the current employment environment.

    When we look around our immediate region we see that the major players in the region (Edmonton, St. Albert etc) have all recently advertised for and are now attracting people to fill these same positions. With potential candidates chasing those positions we are likely to see a very mooted response to our request for hire. A contracted position leaves us with a candidate who may be divided in their loyalties and not yield the results we are looking for.

    I would support Paul’s argument if we were talking about other positions but this one is critical.

  5. Somewhere there is a balance between financial prudence and quality municipal service levels. If we want Morinville to be sustainable and responsive to investment potential, we should be careful not to sacrifice one for the other.

    Commercial taxes should be higher in Morinville. A low commercial tax rate is not the right kind of incentive for development – a tax bill is hardly an impediment to development for a serious developer. More likely impediments to investment include uncertainty (access onto 100 Avenue, for example) and a lack of development-ready land (i.e.: unserviced).

    As for an economic development officer position, it probably matters little whether the person is staff or a consultant – the right person will do his or her job with integrity regardless. Focus on quality people, and less on the working relationship.

    Employee to resident ratio is too blunt an instrument to use in assessing operational efficiency. There are far too many variables that influence staffing levels from one community to the next to give much standing to a comparison done using a simplistic ratio in the absence of much greater detail and understanding of how the other communities actually operate within their approved budgets. Being understaffed is an operational inefficiency, too, and can have broad sweeping, and lasting, negative impacts on a community.

    An operational efficiency review may be prudent. However, efficiency in and of itself should not be the goal. When it comes to staffing levels, it may more important to focus on having right kind of people rather than the right “number” of people in place.

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