22 C
Niagara Falls
Saturday, May 27, 2023
Ross’s Ramblings: Surely town staffing costs can be explained and simplified 
Stephen Leacock. WIKIPEDIA

For years when we were unable to understand the finances of a large company or a level of government, my old high school buddies and I would explain away our ineptness by saying, “I’m just a small town greaseball from the Garden City of St. Catharines. I’ll have another beer, please.”

Frighteningly, one of us even rose to the lofty business card of senior deputy governor of the Bank of Canada. He signed our folding banknotes for about 10 years, which was very cool for his S.W.C. pals.

In about 2006, he tried his level best, using no words over six letters long, to explain to me how the central banks set the U.S. dollar exchange rate.

He slipped in the phrase “international monetary trilemma” and that did me in. I have since been content to be known as an economic doofus.

Not too many years ago, I watched in wonder as the world economic wizards bailed out Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal. How had they tricked the wise world bankers for so many years, at so many costly summit meetings?

In their countries, not many people were doing much work and not many people were paying income taxes. It was simple. The banking czars talked billions and trillions like they understood the problems.

At the same time, these countries known as the PIGS were all in the soccer World Cup semifinals, taking to the field like so many sporting peacocks, preening in their effulgent and stretchy uniforms. Diving with apparent impunity.

Which brings me to the weighty issue of a story last week in The Lake Report, a headline on Page 10 read, “Town of NOTL proposing to hire 16 new staffers for 2023.”

To spend almost $900,000 on these new town workers. Plus soft costs and benefits,which quickly could bump the number over $1 million.

Now, I try to think a bit like my role model Stephen Leacock over in Mariposa on the shore of Lake Couchiching. He was never mean or sarcastic. He looked for something absurd and poked fun at it. With a message, eh?

In the past year, I have had to bite my tongue several times and not ramble about million-dollar spills in ditches, or big money, multi-month public works projects (how ya doing with the new culvert at Simcoe and Johnson streets?)

Wouldn’t one of them three-foot pre-cast concrete pipes have been suitable and able to be finished in a month or two?

OK, we’ll give you three months. How about those ribbed aluminum pipes our farmer friends have successfully used to move water for so long.

Back now to the proposed 16 happy new staffers. Thankfully, some of the proposed positions were not approved, but they all were under serious consideration.

Hey, I have been up front and admitted I don’t understand all this public sector stuff. I read the article a second time and cherrypicked a few new job titles.

My antediluvian attitudes to town staffing and costs force me to grimace at some of the job names. Asset management co-ordinator, legislative committee co-ordinator, climate change co-ordinator (apparently every other small town in Niagara has one, so it must be necessary?) mayoral assistant, programming specialist for parks and recreation, digital records co-ordinator, and I’m not kidding you, a landscape worker to service Victoria Street.

I admit to not understanding the game, but please, say it ain’t so. This is 18,000-strong NOTL, not even Milton or Orangeville.

Since I am admittedly treading on new soil, I will not even mention my shock at the salaries recommended by town staff for their new colleagues. The new communications co-ordinator would be paid “about $92,000” and the legislative committee co-ordinator about $52,000.

Again, plus office space and other soft costs. Yikes, more dashing red vehicles on our roads.

I have talked to a few people who seem to understand this issue and I realize that it is not all “cash out the door.” There are government grants, deferrals, bogies, accruals and more. And no town can hire too many consultants.

Years ago, I read a book about the U.S. military. Yes, the Founding Fathers wanted to have influence and power around the world. But further, these intellectual giants also wanted to create the world’s greatest and most sustainable make-work project.

Now, in war time or in peace time, the entire American economy rolls along, with millions of military personnel, and many more millions of support folk supporting the military bases.

Tailors, printers, farmers, cooks (I was one, for six months, supporting Operation Deep Freeze in Christchurch, New Zealand) and countless other civilian jobs. In 1973, at that faraway base, the U.S. and seven other counties were doing research in Antarctica. There were 400 military personnel and some 300 of us in support.

It may be a huge and rambling stretch to discuss the U.S. military and our Town of NOTL staff in the same column, but I asked then and I ask now, “Who is paying for this?”

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