Monday, August 29, 2011

Interesting Poll results, New CAO when?

I asked the following question:

Should the municipality spend the additional tax dollars to send all members of council to conventions?

Not surprisingly out of 39 people that took a moment to vote a solid 76% agreed with the arguments presented on my previous post regarding the issue of the Convention attendance policy.
While there is no question that there is "some" value to sending some members of council to these events there is no question that the odd meeting can be set up with the right people, also no question that some of the education sessions are of value. But it does not take 8-9 people to take notes in a education session or pick up relevant literature and it does not take 8-9 voices to represent the municipalities interests in those meetings. Has a former Mayor told me at my first convention they are a nice perk for councils and CAO's but not at a cost of $30,000 per year!

My next poll is regarding the search for a CAO, last year when we went through the debate about hiring a new CAO, the minority on council were adamant that it should have been left for the next council to fill the position, I and some of my fellow councilors disagreed stating that there would not be enough time for a new council to be placed in office and find a CAO in time to deal with the budget process 2 months. Of course the minority of council felt that was an ample time.

Based on that debate and considering the last CAO gave his notice on May 19th, pleased take a moment to address my new poll which asks the simple question are you surprised that a permanent CAO as not been found three and a half months after giving his notice?  

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Coming soon, time to pay the piper

Last week at the council meeting the head of finance was giving the council an update on the financial state of the municipality to the middle of August. Within that discussion somebody pointed out that there is an almost $300,000 liability for accumulated sick time for the municipal staff, a couple of other councilors seemed unaware of this. Which surprised me in the sense that this number appears in the annual municipal financial statements every year, which council just reviewed three months ago.

For the benefit of my readers where does this come from?

Municipal employees hired after July 1 2008 receive one and a half sick days per month (prior to that it was two days per month this was changed during the bargaining process at that time). If they do not use these days they get to accumulate them up to a maximum of 120 days, which they are then paid out on a 50% basis when they retire. (For example 60 days times 8 hours @ approx $30 per hour equals $14,400 per employee). The difficulty with this benefit is that after an employee has been with the town for less than seven years the 120 days are accumulated and in some cases it becomes an additional 18 days a year off. If they do not use them they lose them, there is simply no incentive to not use them.

Now they are aware maybe this council will have some ideas to deal with this issue.

The next issue related to this and where it becomes increasing difficult to manage the municipal finances especially when the workforce is expanding is the cost of payroll. I am told that the town of Pincher Creek’s employees just turned down a three year contract with a wage increase of 3%, 2.5% and 2.75%. The Municipalities contract with CUPE is up at the end of the year, applying those same increases to the Pass would see some huge additional costs. In the 2010 financial statement (which would not cover the new positions created this year total cost of Salaries, Wages and Benefits was $4,923,486 increase those numbers by the percentages above 2012 would go to $5,071,191, 2013 $5,197,970, and 2014 $5,340,915.

That’s an additional $839,618 over the next three years or to put it in very simple terms it would take an average increase of 2.4% in taxes each year to accommodate those additional costs. Several factors that will come in to play here; the impact of the new positions created this year, maybe Cupe will be willing to accept less in this round of bargaining than they would in Pincher and surrounding areas. Or the workforce through gains in efficiencies will shrink enough to offset any additional wage increases.

Just some things to think about especially if there is further consideration to increase the municipal workforce.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Is this the way business should be conducted?

On Tuesday August 16, an  item titled “Enforcement Services Audit” appeared on the agenda, with a recommendation coming forth from Administration stating the following.

“That council direct administration to engage Transitional Solutions Inc. to undertake an Enforcement Services Audit to examine the existing Municipal enforcement practices in reference to the enforcement of Provincial statutes and Municipal Bylaws. The Audit is not to exceed $7,000 and will be assumed within the Municipal Enforcement Budget.

The argument was made by the Interim CAO Kevin Robins about concerns in this area that required clarification. Administration also stated that the Municipality did not have the expertise internally to conduct this audit.

This recommendation was voted on by Council, which subsequently passed by a vote of 6-1 with only Councilor Saje opposed.

What appears at first impression has just another study to clear up an area of confusion and answer questions raised by council and the residents of the community due to frustrations in the area of the Municipality’s enforcement program.

Upon further study this recommendation raises other questions? the Interim CAO who is also the CEO of the Transitional Solutions is recommending that the municipality conduct an audit on our Enforcement Services using an outside contractor that just happens to be “Transitional Solutions”.

I know its only $7,000 but no tendering process no opportunity for any other company to take a look at this?????
Does anybody else have concerns regarding even the perception of a conflict of interest?

Friday, August 12, 2011

“Convention policy receives thrashing”

This was the title of an article posted in the local paper a few weeks back, available at the address below.

Previous council put in place a policy that no more than three members of council could attend conventions at any one time, with each councilor being allowed to attend at least once during their term. The municipality belongs to three organizations that hold conventions every year the FCM, AUMA, and the AAMDC.

Mayor Decoux in a very strong tone referred to this as “an archaic defeatist type of policy” the acting CAO addressed the importance of the AUMA convention, with it being an excellent opportunity for council to network with peers in other municipalities, to attend valuable education sessions, to deal with the business of the association and their resolutions. He also mentioned that they would be trying to line up meetings with various provincial ministers.

Sounds good in theory?

When I was first elected to council in 2004 I went to a couple of conventions, in both Edmonton and Calgary. I find out going through my first budget process that $30-40,000 of the taxpayers money was being spent a year attending these conventions. Nothing to sneeze at but with an open mind I felt maybe it was money well spent. Let’s look at the different aspects of these conventions:

Meeting peers from other municipalities, true no question about it you get to meet a lot of people, keep in mind council attends regional meetings on an annual basis where they get to meet all of their fellow councilors from both this corner of the province and the Elk Valley municipalities with issues similar to ours. Outside of the immediate area how many municipalities really care about what’s going on in the Crowsnest Pass they have their own issues to deal with.

There also is the opportunity to find out what other municipalities are doing, let’s keep in mind that with the invention of the Internet you can find out what anybody is doing in the few strokes of the keyboard. If you really want to be “archaic” you could pick up the phone and call other communties.

Valuable education sessions, some are really good some are like watching paint dry, the one’s that are good, lots of people attend and the others very few attend. Most of the sessions provide literature which a councilor could bring back and copy for his fellow councilors. Also we asked that councilors bring back a report on the valuable information they heard, and share it with all of council. No different than went you send a councilor to the Oldman watershed committee, or any other meeting you don’t send all of them you ask for a report back.

Business of the association, there are 3000 people in a big room voting on resolutions that for the most part are decided by substantial margins one way or the other, the fact that Crowsnest Pass as three votes or seven does it really matter?

Meetings with ministers, two types first of all you have a session with ministers where they answer questions from the room then they go out on the floor to speak to the delegates. Its really builds your ego up when a politician looks at your name tag and says “Dean good to see you again, I hear things are going really well in Canmore! Oops sorry Crowsnest Pass” I sat and counted one time a minister speak to 25 delegates in thirty minutes, I questioned how many of there comments he would remember two days from now.

Second there are the scheduled meetings with ministers in a private room, you get 20-30 minutes to meet with a minister and his assistant. Most councils have a spokesmen either the Mayor or the CAO who will do 90% of the speaking for your group lets be realistic you are not going to have eight people yapping of in a short meeting with a minister. Do you really need all seven members of council there?

A few things that were missed by the Mayor and the CAO:

Hospitality rooms. these are meeting rooms in various hotels where delegates are staying. Set up by vendors that deal with municipalities: engineering firms, law firms, and suppliers. You get to go eat free food and all the booze you can drink, certainly saw a lot more enthusiastic councilors in these rooms than I did at the education sessions. These are the types of people that municipal administrators should be dealing with, not politicians.

Costs: $30-40,000 a year you may ask how can that be. Well remember each member of council gets a $160 per day times 7 that’s $1120 per day times at minimum 4 days per convention. Hotel rooms are going to cost at least $200 per day times 8 (Including CAO) that’s $1600 per day. Mileage most councilors take their spouse which means you will have a minimum of 4 people charging mileage $2000 to Edmonton.

Keep in mind the FCM is usually held outside Alberta in places like Quebec City, Whistler, Halifax etc. Even more costly when you factor in plane fares.

Stephen Mandel Mayor of Edmonton did not attend this year he stated “the FCM group hasn't been effective in pushing civic concerns in Ottawa”

Back to the issues are there a value to these conventions?

I believe there is some, there is no question that occasionally some good information is picked up, and some of the right hands are shaken. But nothing that one or two individuals couldn’t share with a larger group.

Should all seven members of council attend? I don’t believe so it’s a luxury that a community with our lack of financial strength cannot afford.

When you are closing libraries and consolidating shops to be more efficient and cut costs why does every member of council need to go to a convention?