On Oct. 16 Whistler council shot down an $8.7 million plan to expand and renovate municipal hall. Mayor Ken Melamed and Councillors Nancy Wilhelm-Morden and Ralph Forsyth spoke in favour of the plan while Councillors Bob Lorriman, Tim Wake, Eckhard Zeidler and Gord McKeever opposed the idea, for a variety of reasons.
The cost was, of course, one of the primary concerns. Lorriman pointed out that just five months earlier council had approved $5.7 million for municipal hall renovations and this proposal was 60 per cent higher than what was in the budget.
A more intriguing point was made by Councillors Wake and McKeever, who suggested that the number of people working at municipal hall may actually decline following the frenzy of the 2010 Olympics. McKeever said: “I can’t understand why we won’t be dealing with less staffing in 2011. Build-out should reduce some of our needs…. I think three and a half years from now we will be operating with less staff.”
Wake asked: “What are our needs going to be in 2011?”
Mayor Melamed, after expressing his frustration said: “I can see this is not going to pass. I’d like to ask the administrator to go back and forecast staff needs for 2011.”
Last week a revised, somewhat scaled down proposal for renovation and expansion of municipal hall went before council. The plan, with a $5.785 million price tag, was approved, with only Zeidler and Wake opposed.
While the staff report built a case for the renovation and expansion it did not provide the information that Melamed requested on Oct. 16: forecast how many municipal staff will be needed in 2011. Comments by Councillors Wake and McKeever on Oct. 16 indicate that they expect staff numbers to decline. The staff report last week suggests they may increase. It states:
“Strategic real estate studies, building assessments and needs assessments indicate that Municipal Hall should be expanded and upgraded to provide operational benefits, to meet the corporate organizational realignment, goals and strategies of Whistler 2020, and the following nine priorities:”
Priority No. 6 is Space Requirements: “Provide offices, workspaces and support spaces for all current municipal staff with some provision for future staff (italics added). Staff requirements will change over the next 10 years to provide efficient services to the community and to respond to the requirements to host the 2010 Winter Games. The renovation will provide the desired adjacency, relationships and space planning to ensure the success of the corporate organization realigned with Whistler 2020’s priorities.”
The report also states: “In support of the forecasted and budgeted staff numbers resulting from changing municipal services and the short term demands of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, a rejuvenated municipal hall will provide workstations for existing staff who currently do not have work space and provide some capacity for future changes in service levels when and if they are found necessary.”
We raise this matter not to suggest that the municipal hall building isn’t a rabbit warren or that there wouldn’t be greater efficiencies and improved morale if staff had proper workstations and the heating and ventilation systems were brought up to date. The point is there was a specific request to forecast “staff needs” in 2011 and it wasn’t answered.
Or maybe it was. Staff told council their needs, but not their forecasted numbers. At any rate, a majority of council felt they had enough information to make a decision.
At the same meeting last week, a report on the realignment of departments and personnel within the municipality was presented. The move is intended to align municipal hall with the Whistler 2020 plan and, presumably, produce greater efficiencies. But the same question about future staffing numbers went unanswered: how many will they be?
Council has the final say on staff size, through its approval of the annual budget. So if a majority of council feels that the number of municipal employees should decline following 2010 they can ensure that happens at budget time.
But of course, public demand for municipal services isn’t likely to decline in 2011. As the provincial government’s recent series of meetings to gather public input for its budget showed, people generally want more government spending and lower taxes. A neat trick for any government.
Whistler faces all kinds of budget questions in the next few years and some tradeoffs will have to be made. If, at some point, it’s determined that the size of the municipal staff should be looked at closely, council should get an independent analysis. Relying on staff to assess staff requirements produces predictable results.