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Council changes course; votes down 2 new staff hires

‘Without this position, we’re going to have higher costs because of consulting fees. I’m not sure where this is advancing our budget overall,’ says mayor
The Town of Collingwood crest on the wall of council chambers at town hall.

While Coun. Kathy Jeffery and Coun. Deb Doherty were absent from council this week, the remaining council members changed direction on two new staff hires to be included in the 2024 budget.

Despite the forestry co-ordinator and senior engineering positions being voted through by narrow margins at a committee of the whole meeting on Nov. 6, the tables turned on Nov. 20 during the regular council meeting when it came time to ratify both decisions.

After expressing concern over adding the forestry co-ordinator position during the Nov. 6 meeting, Coun. Rob Ring re-iterated those concerns on Monday.

“I’m having a hard time with this,” said Ring. “I’m trying to find reasons to support this.”

Ring said he’d received lots of correspondence from residents about the 2024 budget.

“The biggest thing is this budget and the extra staff we’re hiring. Do we really need it? I think eventually, we will. I’m just not convinced we need it right now,” he said.

The forestry co-ordinator would have been tasked with overseeing the town’s tree canopy and work on implementing more of the town’s urban forestry management plan. The request was expected to cost about $260,000 which would include the salary for the co-ordinator, as well as a vehicle purchase and costs for contracted services.

Chief administrative officer Sonya Skinner called the addition of a forestry co-ordinator “a multiplier of efforts,” noting that the person hired would be responsible to ensure the town has the right policies in place to keep developers and residents in check when it comes to tree-clearing and maintaining tree canopy.

“If this doesn’t go forward this will put off that multiplier effect. The policies will not come forward as quickly as we want them to,” said Skinner. “If we don’t go forward there will be a little bit of suffering around (whether) we’re making the right decisions for the greenery in Collingwood.”

At their Nov. 6 meeting, council voted 6-3 in favour of proceeding with the new staff hire. Deputy Mayor Tim Fryer, Coun. Chris Potts and Ring were opposed.

At their Nov. 20 meeting, council voted 4-3 opposed to hiring a forestry co-ordinator, with Mayor Yvonne Hamlin, Coun. Christopher Baines and Coun. Steve Perry in favour.

“This is one of these issues that, as a small rural community, there’s not a lot of thought given to it,” said Hamlin. “It seems to be one of those issues that’s unfolding as we grow.”

Also discussed during council’s Nov. 20 meeting was whether to approve a new engineering position, which was requested by Skinner this past summer but was referred instead to 2024 budget discussions. Skinner said the salary range is expected to be between $85,000 and $105,000.

While this request was also approved at the Nov. 6 committee of the whole meeting by a 5-4 vote, again, councillors switched direction when it came to ratifying the decision at their Nov. 20 meeting.

“I think if you don’t approve this position, the impacts in the community will become more visible. I believe council members will see mounting concerns and call volumes around the issues that are coming forward,” said Skinner.

Skinner cautioned that the engineering position would be needed whether council approved the position or not. If not, the town would have to resort to using outside consultants to do the work which could cost more in the long run than having the position filled in-house.

Skinner estimated the costs of hiring consultants to do the work would likely come in at about 25 to 50 per cent higher.

But some councillors weren’t buying it.

“I don’t think we need to hire any more in that department at this time,” said Potts. “I look at the price tag and, speaking for our residents, I can’t support it.”

At their Nov. 20 meeting, councillors voted 4-3 to defeat the motion to hire a new engineer, with Hamlin, Baines and Houston in favour.

“Without this position, we’re going to have higher costs because of consulting fees,” said Hamlin. “I’m not sure where this is advancing our budget overall.”

“We need a senior engineer out there, on the ground, doing the work. I see the results of not having that person every time I walk in our community,” she said.

As of now, Collingwood’s draft 2024 budget is sitting at a 4.25 per cent tax increase, with the third draft of the budget to come before council in the coming weeks. Capital projects have not yet been included in the budget, and will be discussed by council separately when draft three of the budget is presented.

Multiple dates for public consultation are planned, with a goal to ratify the final budget by Dec. 18.

For more information on the 2024 draft budget, click here.

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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen is an experienced journalist working for Village Media since 2018, primarily covering Collingwood and education.
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