Council takes a pass on cutting a million $$ out of the budget - long story

By Pepper Parr

February 10th, 2023



It took well over an hour of debate – but in the end the Motion from ward 6 Counsellor Angelo Bentivegna did not pass – he wanted to cut a $4.7 million allocation down to $3.7 million that was going to be used to improve the salaries of the employees the city did not want to lose.

In the past, during budget deliberations, Mayor Marianne Meed Ward had all kinds of ideas for cutting the budget; she made it a badge of honour. The only budget item she had this year was an increase in the number of staff in her office. We cover that in a separate article.

Councillor Bentivegna had more Budget motions than anyone else – most failed to pass.

“All I’m asking is to spend $3.7 million, see where we’re at in spending that amount and then decide what to do.

“There are so many parts – part time, full time, vacancies to fill

“I want to be clear. I am good with that. My motion has to do with reducing the $4.7 million to $3.7 million.

“We have another budget coming in 2024, in less than 10 months.” He wanted council to see “where we’re are at in spending; how much of that has been spent. “I’d like to see the results of that. That’s where I’m at.”

Councillor Sharman didn’t see it quite that way. “I’m sorry” he said, “I can’t support this. We need to spend it. I will not have anything more to say.”

Councillor Stolte: “I’m intrigued by this conversation.”

Councillor Stolty wasn’t as certain as Sharman saying “I’m intrigued by this conversation. That’s certainly one that I also had with our finance department. My concern being that we’re already into February and it is unlikely that we are going to actually spend the $4.7  I really don’t believe we’re going to be able to use the $4.7 million this year. I’d like to think that we could but I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere close to that in a real world. We’ve certainly heard a lot of conversations about the challenges about attracting and filling positions.

“I actually don’t have any issue with this I had proposed the thought of deferring some of the funding into a dedicated human resource reserve fund, but I certainly understand the challenges about not funding positions fully in a year. So I’m going to support this. I think it’s more reasonable approached given the fact that we are already going to be you know 25% of the way into 2023 by the time we get through these deliberations. I do want to know that that funding is available in 2024 if it’s needed because in an ideal world we will we will need it but I will be supportive at this point.”

Mayor Meed Ward: Believed HR staff should be supported and given the funds they need.

Mayor Meed Ward said: Staff did do a detailed review of the positions that we have based on extensive performance evaluations, every staff member did their own evaluation of their role, looked at the rating and the ranking and then the competitive market that took about a year or more to generate that and come up with this amount. I am wondering why; do you have any additional research ?

Great question replied Bentivegna. “Our job is to make decisions. And that’s what I’m doing here.”

Meed Ward adds “I you know, we have been presented very serious concerns from staff. Two budgets ago, we added funding for planning staff, and they’ve not been able to fill or keep those positions.

“So if there’s a view that $4.7 million is the right amount, I’m satisfied that staff have done their work.

“We already know next year is going to be a difficult budget. Much like this one. So I’m not going to support the reduction. I understand fully that we may not get all the staff in place. Any surplus at the end of the year can be used to add funds to the tax rate stabilization funds. The Tax Stabilization fund is where any surplus amounts are placed – it becomes an account that can be drawn upon for unseen expenses – frequently referred to as the Councillors “piggy bank”.

Councillor Galbraith: This is the biggest item on the budget. Votes against reducing it

Councillor Galbraith had a comment. “This is the largest budget item and it did need to be looked at but I can’t support it.

“I believe he’s (Bentivegna) just throwing a dart at the million dollars. If there’s no real justification for that amount; adding we did all support this at committee. We saw the data; it takes some 23 years to get to the top end of the compensation scale, we know that in neighbouring communities is five to eight years.

“This labour market is different. We are in a different time period where culture doesn’t really matter anymore. It’s a virtual world and unless we’re competitive with our compensation, we are going to lose staff. The backbone of this organization is our staff. If things aren’t getting done on time and our office is bombarded by complaints and concerns, it’s because we are not compensating our staff or we don’t have the staff or we can’t attract the staff; there’s really no way around it. I don’t like it any more than anybody else. It’s the marketplace that has determined this and unless we are competitive we are going to lose people.”

Chair Kearns turned to Laura Boyd, Executive Director of HR asking: “Is HR entirely confident in this number? Would you like to make any changes to it and can you provide clarity that this funding is to retain the existing HR complement and that the budget amount does not provide any additional enhanced services ?”

Boyd replies: “Yes, the confidence we have in the numbers is based on the modelling we did based on actual salaries and on performance merit reviews for 2023. May it change between now and when we implement in July. Absolutely. But this is our best estimate. And as you know we have a second request next year to further implement a performance based compensation program. This is step one of a two-step process. This is this is based on our current compliment and doesn’t include any of the added positions that counsel may be considering as part of this year’s budget

Ward 2 Councillor Lisa Kearns had to work at getting Council members to follow the procedures.

Kearns added: “I don’t like this number more than anyone else likes it. But at the same time if we do not invest appropriately in our absolute number one asset we will we will fail and we will continue to fail. You have often heard me talk in this council chamber about root cause corrective action. If we’re not getting the level of service, we’re not getting the targets that we’re asking for and we’re not getting the caliber of employee that we know will deliver service excellence, then this is how we correct it. I don’t see any evidence to the contrary that indicates a change in course would deliver the same result.

“So this is a confident number that has been put forward with great investigation and review and data driven analysis.  The only wish I would put forward was I wish we had the job reviews done sooner, but you’ll know that I have asked for that along with a lot of times in a gentle way. I want those job reviews done and this is going to help. It is tempting to take out a million dollars out of the budget in this year.

Councillor Sharman: “I have nothing more to say.”.

Councillor Sharman asking a follow up: “I think the conversation we’ve had here has been really great. The tension that the Counsellor created by putting forward the motion truthfully. You know, when it comes to accountability, we’ve done our best in prior councils to try to keep tax rates low. That includes in 2010 2011 budget, capping of headcount and elimination of automatic CPI increases; we were paying salary increases well above the market at that time.

“And it was done and it was justified – then it got held on to for too long. We didn’t then address it because we continued to be listening and saying yes, we’ve got to keep cost down. And I would say we’ve been doing that for probably three or four decades to the point that has now accumulated.

“The other thing I can also say is that what led us to the situation with staffing to a large degree. The other the other thing that I would own up to is that, you know, in the last few budgets, I have created the notion of differing gapping benefits as a result of getting staff to say well, when will we hire there? How much will I gapping not be utilized and therefore added into the knot therefore added into our reserve fund.

“And the outcome is we’re taking I think is a $3 million hit this year and this year’s tax increase that I frankly, I have to now say enough is enough.

“I put this in the context that we have got some discipline in this budgeting process that I’ve never seen before. And I say that with the greatest respect to all the work that has been done by finance people, but it was in the context of understanding we have changed our budget system to look out into the future. To eliminate the June kind of politically oriented let’s set a tax rate. And then staff work their guts out to try to meet that number, whether it’s a good number or not.

“What we’ve done here is we’ve taken a responsible approach looking after the needs of the city for the long term, and that is the beginning of a process that that I personally believe is vital and timely. And I will stand behind the choices staff have made right now in the recommendations they’ve made. And in the event that there’s some gapping – it’ll get put into reserves. We had a $1.4 million draw on reserves last year because the budget was out of balance – that cannot be repeated. So I I appreciate the thought. But we’re not thinking that way anymore.

“I do have a question to Laura. I’m just seeking some clarity. So I understand that this is for existing positions and making them relevant and competitive as far as the outside market goes to make sure that we’re attracting and retaining, particularly retraining, our good staff. Last year, I believe it was if not the year before, but I think it was last year we approved in the budget a position to look at that market competitiveness and job evaluation. How far along are we in that process?”

Executive Director Human Resources Laura Boyd

Laura Boyd, responds: “The numbers that you see in front of you is part of our job evaluation process on market competitiveness. The job evaluation process that has resulted in this budget ask has two pieces to it. One is internal equity; job evaluation looking at all the positions with everyone completing a job information questionnaire.

Points were then assigned and then positions are grouped into like pay bands, that is the internal focus of job evaluation.

“The external focus is a market competitiveness which was done as part of this process. Gallagher, the consulting firm we are using looked at the council approved comparators and then commented where the pay bands should rest. And then from their human resource staff, including our manager of total compensation, they modelled how do we move staff from the current ranges to the new ranges. So that’s what the number you see in front of you today is paying for.”

Bentivegna adds: “Yes, we do need to move forward. In 2024 we’re going to go through this again; we already have a 7% simulated budget for 2024. Keep in mind that 2025 simulated budget is less, 2026 simulated budget is even less.

Councillor Nisan during the budget debates

“I think I heard the word discipline earlier. I want to see us become a little bit more consistent in budget time saying okay, we know we need this, whether we need it today whether we need it tomorrow or two, three years from now, and as long as we’re still here to plan for this. When it comes to HR competitiveness, there is more to come. We need to prioritize. That’s what I’m looking at and asking is: are we going to tackle this forever?

“I want to be able to spread that those numbers over several years.”

Kearns announces that she doesn’t see anything else on the board which means we will now move to the vote on this item. Budget motion number two, reduce the funding in the 2023 budget. From 4.7 to 3.7.

“All those in favour ?

The motion does not carry at this time.”

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6 comments to Council takes a pass on cutting a million $$ out of the budget – long story

  • Stephen White

    To suggest that culture doesn’t matter is nothing short of naive. Repeated studies have shown that the number one issue that compels employees to leave their jobs was the actions and treatment by their supervisor. Compensation repeatedly ranks #3 or #4 on the reasons for changing employers. Keep in mind too that we are talking about the public service where, typically, job security, generous pension provisions and work/life balance, are inducements to stay than to leave.

  • Bonnie

    Lynn, as someone who has sat on several Citizen Advisory Committees, I have always found it interesting, that after two terms, which total six years, we as volunteers, are told we need to move on, to make room for people with new ideas. Should not the same be said about council members and city employees, who are allowed to make the decision, to make life long careers of the same job? I for one, hope term limits will be discussed at some time during this council cycle and the city will also realize, it is time for some of their senior staff to move along.

  • Joe Gaetan

    “My concern being that we’re already into February and it is unlikely that we are going to actually spend the $4.7 I really don’t believe we’re going to be able to use the $4.7 million this year.” Then why was it left in the budget? A budget sets out what an organizaiton expects to receive in revenue, hopefully matched by what needs to be actually spent in the time period.

  • Lynn Crosby

    Thank you to Councillor Bentivegna for being the only one showing fiscal prudence. Maybe they should consider reasons beyond salary as to why staff don’t want to come or stay here? Maybe we could look at some of those at the top levels, many who have been here for a looooong time, who could move on and out so those lower down have room for advancement? And we get some fresh ideas and a fresh culture. I don’t agree at all that “culture doesn’t matter anymore”. It does matter very much to young people that I know who are beginning their careers. Honestly can’t believe Galbraith would say that. Actually, perhaps that explains a lot. Sad.

  • David

    A financially gated community?