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Councillor’s bid for hiring freeze shot down in Woolwich

Resisting any oversight role to get a handle on Woolwich’s growing staff costs, councillors shot down Coun. Pat Merlihan’s bid for a hiring freeze. Coun. Larry Shantz was the sole supporter of the bid for more accountability.

Merlihan’s motion centered on getting information about staffing costs and the increase in numbers and expense to taxpayers. He’s been requesting information since last fall, and getting no response, he said as he and his colleagues met March 31.

“Currently, council is blind,” he said, noting that councillors were given no information about the expense that makes up half the annual operating budget.

“We have to start the conversation about staffing levels,” he argued, saying that the public perception – real or not – is that the township is staff-heavy.

His motion called not for an absolute hiring freeze, but management would have to come to council to make the case for filling any vacancies rather than simply going ahead with hiring without any oversight.

Coun. Mark Bauman led the charge against Merlihan’s resolution. He immediately asked for a recorded vote, bringing the mayor’s vote into play and setting up the possibility of a split on the six-member council, enough to kill the motion.

He also used the debate to push again for a service-level review, a $60,000 study that gained little traction with most councillors during the budget deliberations.

Mayor Sandy Shantz dismissed the idea as “micromanaging staff,” saying council isn’t qualified to judge staffing numbers.

“I’m shocked that there’s such opposition to wanting to be informed,” replied Merlihan. “We need the information to make informed decisions.”

Merlihan said there has thus far been no information presented to council. If previous councils chose not to look at the numbers, that’s no reason for this council to do so. “Otherwise, we’re refusing to be informed about half of Woolwich’s budget.”

In response to a question from Coun. Scott Hahn, David Brennman said a hiring freeze would have no impact on the day-to-day operations of the township. The number of people hired due to attrition or retirement might range from a couple to five or six in a busy year.

Coun. Larry Shantz supported the motion, calling it another tool for councillors to get a handle on township business.

“I don’t understand why this should be a tough one to support.”

In the end, councillors agreed to have staff provide them with numbers and figures attached to the large growth in costs, but shot down the idea of the hiring freeze.

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