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Two new Woolwich staff positions to wash away savings from fire dept. restructuring

Giving with one hand by freeing up tax money in eliminating a staff position, Woolwich council doubled up on the taking by hiring two more full-time positions.

The money saved by restructuring the fire department staff was quickly gobbled up Tuesday night as councillors approved the hiring of two new positions aimed at taking stock of township infrastructure and helping to build new projects.

Both new jobs will be five-year contract positions, a development charges project supervisor (pay range $75,375 to $91,920) and an infrastructure development coordinator ($62,582 to $76,320). The former will be funded from development charges – extra fees added to each new home, ostensibly to pay for growth-related costs – while 70 per cent of the latter will be funded from the general operating levy, the remainder coming from the water and wastewater budgets.

Money spent on the infrastructure coordinator essentially eats up all of the savings, estimated at up to $87,000, from eliminating a position within the fire department administration.

Restructuring the fire department essentially involves getting rid of an administrative assistant.

From a part-time chief paid less than $30,000, in the last few years the department has grown to four full-time employees – a chief, a deputy, a fire prevention officer and an administrative assistant – at a cost of $412,000, plus a slate of vehicles and related expenses.

The changes, with current chief Rick Pedersen set to retire, essentially eliminates the lowest-paid position and swaps a fire prevention officer for a community emergency management coordinator.

Also, rather than a stand-alone department, with the chief serving as a senior management director, fire services will fall under the umbrella of the chief administrative officer (CAO), Pedersen explained.

His retirement is tied to hiring replacements, with all three remaining jobs to be posted.

While using the fire department savings eased some concerns, councillors weren’t all eager to embrace another round of hiring, the township’s payroll having grown by almost 50 per cent over the last decade.

Coun. Patrick Merlihan challenged the need for the new hires, later suggesting if staff deemed the functions important enough, they should look at eliminating a corresponding number of jobs elsewhere.

He pointed to the huge increases in staffing costs – due to both more people on the payroll and ever-increasing wages – even as township is falling behind on actual infrastructure work.

“As a council, for the residents we have to manage spending (to avoid) taxes doubling every ten years,” said Merlihan.

He was also leery of contract positions, noting the township has a habit of simply turning those jobs into permanent positions.

“My experience with contracts is they seem to turn into people never leaving.”

Some of his concerns were echoed by Coun. Larry Shantz, who noted Woolwich residents, current and future, will be paying for the new hires, no matter which accounting pile the money comes from.

After a debate, council’s lone concession was going the five-year contract route with both positions, not just one as originally planned.

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