Town staff gets ‘more boots on the ground’ as Kingsville council approves eight new hires

KINGSVILLE — Kingsville council received a clear message from its department heads and town administration that more staff is needed to deal with town’s growth and the increasing demand for municipal services.

During budget deliberations Wednesday council reviewed the hiring of 10 new staff positions and approved eight. Some of the new hires will be downgraded to part-time to cut costs or will be delayed to later this year to minimize the impact on the 2022 budget.

As a result, Kingsville council has reduced the proposed municipal tax hike from 3.5 per cent to 2.9 per cent. Instead of a $62.35 tax increase on a home assessed at $250,000, the increase will be $51.28.

Mayor Nelson Santos said the proposed tax hike could drop further.

“There are still more capital items to deal with, still more operational budgets to deal with.” Santos said in an interview.

Not all the new positions would be funded through municipal taxes. Several of the new positions, like the hiring of an additional fire prevention officer, a building and planning technician and an economic and tourism officer will be funded, not through municipal taxes, but a blend of inspection fees, provincial grants, and water bill increases. The salaries funded by municipal taxes total $134,750.

A decision on hiring a recreation programming assistant will be made next Wednesday.

“We need more boots on the ground,” said director of infrastructure and engineering G.A. Plancke in presenting his department’s case for hiring two unionized public works employees.“We’re continually being asked for a higher level of service by council and by residents…. We’ve held the line as far as staffing goes, so I think the two requests coming forward are reasonable, fair and quite frankly overdue.”

Plancke noted his department has not added staff in the 19 years he has worked for the town. The infrastructure and engineering department, which oversees maintenance and repair of Kingsville’s 440 kilometres of paved roads, is also asking for the hiring of an engineering technician to help plan and develop infrastructure projects. Council decided Wednesday to hire one public works employee and defer hiring a second employee until 2023.

Other department heads also cited the growth of the municipality — according to Santos, the town averaged 115 home builds a year from 2014 to 2020 — as the reason for hiring additional staff.

“In Kingsville, because of the growth we’ve had, we basically have more (building) permits than we have capacity to respond to those permits,” said Richard Wyma, the town’s director of community and development services.

“We need additional staff to catch up to the number of permits out there.”

His department asked for the hiring of a building and planning technician to review building permits, prioritize requests and schedule inspections.

There were 162 homes built in Kingsville in 2020 — a record. Santos said 2021 is expected to to that.

A proposal by Fire Chief John Quennell to hire an additional fire prevention officer was one council was solidly behind.

“Not too often does the Kingsville Fire Department hear the word no from Kingsville council,” said Coun. Thomas Neufeld. “And I think the reason is because, what’s the saying, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Council’s No. 1 priority is the health and welfare of our citizens … so I support this position.”

Quennell said the position would be funded by a flat fee charged for fire prevention inspections. Council is expected to pass a bylaw next month to allow the charging of fire inspection fees.

We’ve run lean for years and years and years. You can see that the community has outgrown the staff.

Kingsville CAO John Norton said there are liability concerns related to having only one person in the human resources department. He said more health and safety regulations are being downloaded from the province to local municipalities.

“I agree it’s a position … that does not meet anything the public is going to be excited about. It doesn’t provide physical services, but it provides necessary internal services and prevents us from getting into a position of liability and I would say we’re teetering is this area.”

Human resources manager Jennifer Galea told council she is often forced to work overtime to keep up with her job demands.

“Things on my plate I just haven’t got to is diversity and inclusion policies, respect in the workplace, attendance management programs that need to be reviewed, performance review programs and just standard policies for employment.”

She said supervising COVID testing of staff has also placed additional strains on the HR department.

Norton said if the position of an HR assistant wasn’t filled existing staff would have to redeployed to assist Galea.

Council decided to make the human resources assistant a part-time job.

Wyma, whose department also includes parks and recreation, said Kingsville is noted for its events like Open Streets, the Highland games, the Festival of Lights and the folk festival. But it falls short in providing recreational programming, he said.

“Kingsville is well-known for being at the top in terms of the events it does produce, but also being at the bottom in terms of programs it delivers.

“Our Kingsville model is heavily dependent on significant overtime and inputs of additional staff … and that’s an unsustainable model,” he said.

He noted the recreation manager worked 425 hours of overtime last year which would represent 20 percent of the cost of hiring a recreation programs assistant.

Coun. Kimberly DeJong said hiring a programming assistant has shifted from “a want” to “a need.”

She said Kingsville falls short in recreational programming compared to other Essex County municipalities.

“I’m one of the ones who brings up other communities’ rec programming … and I’ve been guilty of putting my own children in those programs because they were offered there at prices that I didn’t see offered in Kingsville.”

DeJong said in an interview that not all council members agreed on each hiring, but there was broad consensus on the need for more employees.

“Not every councillor supported every position,” DeJong said. “There have only been a few positions that were unanimous … different councillors have different priorities and that came through with the discussion of who is willing to support what.”

“There’s nobody on council who has turned down every position, so yes, … more staff is needed.”

Neufeld said Kingsville is still running a tight ship — even with the new hires.

“We’ve run lean for years and years and years. You can see that the community has outgrown the staff,” he said in an interview.

“Still, with these additions, we’ll still have the lowest amount of employees within the seven (Essex County) municipalities.”

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