The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is proposing to spend almost $900,000 on 16 new staff members in 2023.
Discussion over which positions make the cut have been held at several meetings over the past few weeks.
The town has ranked the positions in order of priority from first to 16th: a communications co-ordinator, legislative committee co-ordinator, health and safety co-ordinator, asset management co-ordinator, economic development officer, heritage planner, town planner, mayoral assistant, a second mechanic, climate change co-ordinator, building inspector, fire inspector, bylaw and building administrative assistant, programming specialist for parks and recreation, digital records co-ordinator and a landscape worker to service Victoria Street.
Three of these are contracted positions, including the mayoral assistant, the digital record co-ordinator and the landscaper.
Staff and council agree that additional planning staff are top priorities.
“Our number one complaint is about planning,” Coun. Erwin Wiens said.
Wiens told council that new legislative rules implemented by the province’s omnibus legislative bill, the More Homes Built Faster Act, are coming into effect July 1.
The town’s director of development, Kirsten McCauley, said staff are expecting a swell of development applications as a result of those changes.
Coun. Maria Mavridis said she was “surprised” staff was only asking to hire one planner.
McCauley said the town’s planning application numbers “have increased significantly over the years.”
“We are strapped,” she added. “We need more staff.”
The town initially wanted to hire a lower-level planner for $69,000 but decided to budget about $20,000 more for someone with more experience.
“We probably need a higher-level planner to get us up to speed,” said Coun. Gary Burroughs.
The communications co-ordinator is currently a contract position and is funded through grants, said chief administrator Marnie Cluckie.
The role is not new to the town and has been evolving into a full-time position for a few years, she said.
The communications job salary is budgeted at about $90,000.
The legislative committee co-ordinator, with a salary of about $52,000, would record all the committees of council.
“This would allow for some consistency between the minutes,” said Victoria Steele, the town’s government relations officer.
It would also allow committees to start meeting in person again, she said.
Health and safety is currently handled by a town’s human resources worker, Cluckie said.
She said a designated position is needed because staff have “identified a gap” when it comes to training, preparing and reporting on workplace injuries.
“I think some of the other positions are a higher priority than this,” Coun. Sandra O’Connor said.
Coun. Nick Ruller disagreed.
“These are highlighted after an incident when somebody says, ‘Well, how could this have been avoided,’ ” said Ruller, the town’s former fire chief.
He argued it would be a mistake to defer the hire until next year.
The position is valued at nearly $63,000 in the budget.
Staff and council also considered the importance of an economic development officer to help diversify the town’s economy and direct economic projects like the tourism plan.
“I don’t see a need for this (position) this year,” said Burroughs.
Cluckie noted most towns have their own economic development officer.
“We do have a bit of service – and we’re grateful for it – from Niagara Region,” she said.
Wainfleet, Pelham, West Lincoln and Niagara-on-the-Lake share that service, but it is “quite a challenge” because “we are larger in terms of tourism,” Cluckie said.
“If it’s something we’re gonna do anyways, then let’s do it as opposed to delaying it,” said Wiens.
He argued that the town was not out trying to attract businesses to NOTL whereas neighbouring cities are.
“Niagara Falls and St. Catharines, they’re eating our lunch because they’re out there getting it,” he said.
The position would cost the town about $42,000 if approved.
The town also listed a mayoral assistant in the budget at a cost of almost $36,000.
Cluckie said “demand has been ever increasing” in the mayor’s office over the years.
She added that even if the town hires a communication specialist, it will still have fewer communications staff in 2023 because many of the positions are funded by provincial grants not available this year.
Staff recommended both an additional mechanic and a program co-ordinator for the parks and recreation department in their budget proposal.
It will cost the town almost $59,000 for the mechanic and almost $50,000 for the program co-ordinator.
Director of operations Rome D’Angelo said if he had to chose one, it would be the program co-ordinator.
He said hiring a second mechanic for the town would help to support the one mechanic on the town’s payroll.
He added the work could be contracted out but not without the town being at risk of overspending, a recurring problem when working with contractors.
Ruller and Wiens both said the parks and recreation department needed more staff.
“We have it down to a skeleton crew there (at the town’s arenas),” Wiens said.
O’Connor suggested they wait until next year to hire the program co-ordinator, but was outvoted by her peers who decided to keep it in the budget.
The committee also had a lengthy discussion about hiring a climate change co-ordinator at a salary of $54,000.
This staffer would be responsible for directing the town’s climate change adaptation program.
So far, that is the only position council has cut from the budget.
Council will continue debate on the proposed positions Thursday morning.