Summerland cuts staff by six positions

Municipal staff reductions expected to save nearly $500,000 in coming year.

In an attempt to balance its books, the municipality has trimmed its staff by six positions.

The cuts were announced on Monday morning.

Municipal administrator Tom Day said the community’s slow growth rate in recent years, low reserve funds and a lack of public infrastructure projects were factors in making the decision.

Three vacant positions at the municipality will not be filled.

The positions are those of deputy fire chief, director of works and utilities and director of parks and recreation.

The deputy fire chief left the municipality in 2013 to take a role in West Kelowna.

The director of parks and recreation retired at the end of 2013 and the director of works and utilities retires at the end of this month.

In addition, an information technology position will be eliminated.

Of positions within the Canadian Union of Public Employees agreement, a public works secretary position, an engineering technician and a water supply technician position will be eliminated.

An electrical worker position will also be eliminated.

A manager of recreation position will be created at the parks and recreation department. This position will answer directly to the municipal administrator.

At the public works department, a parks maintenance position will report to the director of works and services.

The two full-time firefighters at the Summerland Fire Department will be named assistant chiefs.

The worker in the water supply technician role will work elsewhere in the municipality, filling an unrelated opening..

The municipality will also add new positions. A manager of financial services role will be created and a new GIS/data base technician position will be created.

The anticipated savings from the reductions are $487,000 this year and more than $500,000 in 2015.

While cuts were made to affect service to the public as little as possible, Day said the changes will be noticed.

“As we work through it there will be some hiccups,” he said.

Prior to the cuts, there were 17 management and exempt municipal employees, 65 full-time employees, two temporary full-time employees and 10 part-time employees.

On Feb. 1, the municipality will have 13 management and exempt employees, 63 full-time employees, two temporary full-time employees and 10 part-time employees. Members of council said the decision to eliminate the positions was necessary but difficult.

Coun. Bruce Hallquist said the municipality had been affected by changes made in the mid-1990s in administration, the planning department and the 1996 Official Community Plan.

The cuts made last week were “very, very tough decisions to make, but very necessary,” he added.

“We had to make some substantive changes,” added Coun. Peter Waterman.

Coun. Martin Van Alphen said the changes are difficult because good people are affected by the cuts.

“We have to be ready for the future,” he said. “We’re doing the ground work today to ensure the future will look bright for Summerland.”

“Very tough decisions were made and had to be made,” said Coun. Lloyd Christopherson.

Coun. Orv Robson said the decision was the result of a long and unpleasant process.

Coun. Robert Hacking said the changes reflect a view to long-term planning, looking 10 to 20 years into the future.

Mayor Janice Perrino said the decision to cut positions was difficult for all members of council.

“This is not the part of the job that we ever want to do,” she said. “There is nothing good about laying people off, but we have to do it for our budget process.”

She said Summerland’s slow population growth has been a factor in the decision to trim staff.

In 1996, the municipality had 10,584 people, according to the census figures. In 2011, following the most recent census, Summerland had a population of 11,280, an increase of 696 people in 15 years.

In addition to the staff cuts, a property tax increase of two per cent is expected for this year.

Water and garbage rates will remain unchanged, but electrical rates will increase by 3.3 per cent to reflect an increase by FortisBC. Sewer rates will increase by five per cent.

For a single family home with an assessed value of $350,000, the tax increase is $20.27. Increases in the electrical rates will add $48.84 a year and the sewer increase will add $82.35 a year.

The budget must be adopted by May 15.