“Crucial” tasks are falling by the wayside because of unfilled positions in the City of Yellowknife’s administration, council heard this week.
Corporate services director Sharolynn Woodward said a “significant staffing gap” of the equivalent of nearly 13 full-time positions identified in 2018 hasn’t been addressed. Now, the Covid-19 pandemic is putting even more pressure on the city budget in terms of staffing, operating funds and what’s available for major capital projects such as the Ruth Inch Memorial Pool replacement proposal.
Woodward said the staffing gap formed as “a consequence of many years of staffing requirements being buried at the administrative level in anticipation of council’s reluctance to grow the city staff complement.”
She said some progress has been made but the gap will persist in part because there are no new positions proposed in the city’s 2021 budget.
“In the light of Covid, administration understood that it was unrealistic to assume that any of these additions would be palatable to elected officials or the public,” Woodward told council. “But as we’re presenting here today are reminders of the need for additional staff that still remain a need in recognition of the economic impact of Covid on both our citizens and our community and our organization, no new staff positions are included in budget 2021.”
Woodward noted that a safety officer needs to be extended for another two years because of “increasingly stringent safety regulations” that “administration has identified to council on a number of occasions.”
She also noted the need for a support position to guide the city’s Asset Management Road Map, a development and lands officer to help the department keep pace with increased workloads and certain standard expectations in the department.
The city also wants to expand funding for the existing part-time administrative position at the fire hall to full-time to help the division better manage emergencies.
“That is definitely an important function for us and we need to maintain that, so we’re just looking at creative ways to be able to continue to provide those support services at YKDFN,” said Eric Bussey, public safety director said this week.
The division also needs two additional dispatchers to better manage emergency calls, Woodward said.
Woodward also stated that administration ideally wants to see an equipment operator established within the roads and sidewalks division of public works and safety to deal with increasing infrastructure and maintenance needs.
That same division is also asking for a works maintainer to address increased workload due to increasing infrastructure and safety standards.
Mayor Rebecca Alty said that administration has indicated it won’t be requesting fulfilling staff positions, but it is possible to still happen if a councillor were interested in proposing the idea during the budget discussions.
“There is definitely a need, but that does have that tax implications,” she said. “So if council does want to consider adding new positions that they feel are really critical, that request will have to come forward from council during deliberations.”
Coun. Niels Konge stated in an email that he felt okay with no new staff positions being proposed even though there are needs in some areas. He said he was pleased that administration is demonstrating that it recognizes that “the budget must represents the reality that many (Yellowknifers) are experiencing”
“Governments have not seen the same hardships as many business have, and if we are truly in this all together then it would be irresponsible to increase the cost of government when the parts of the private sector are struggling to the extent that they are,” Konge stated. “Local tourism operators are fighting to survive. One of the largest costs the city has is staff. So I feel this is a sound decision for the most part. That will be clarified further down.”
Konge stated that council has done okay with filling staffing needs where needed and he has supported some positions more than others, such as the need for a safety officer.
“I think an organization with over 200 staff should have a safety officer,” he stated.
He added that other positions he would like to learn more about, notably if the additional of an asset manager would provide savings.
As far as additional dispatchers, it may be something for the territorial government to consider helping with.
“With some of the problems that citizens have told me about 911 I need to see if this should be the GNWT (providing) a better job solution, or if city actually needs more dispatchers,” he stated.
“At this time council has not been presented with any back up information about these positions, so on principle I agree. But if adding a staff member has actual savings then it should be supported. That would be like a tax decrease if there were true savings.”