Nanaimo City Hall. (News Bulletin file photo)

Nanaimo city councillors support adding six more staff positions to this year’s budget

Projected property tax increase now at 3.6 per cent ahead of Monday's e-town hall meeting

Nanaimo city council will try to make the financial plan work after adding six new staff positions to the budget.

Council members considered business cases for new staff positions at a special finance and audit committee meeting Friday.

In addition to two police services support positions, councillors approved business cases for a manager of sustainability, a buyer, a municipal services inspector and a project engineer.

The municipal services inspector, including vehicle purchase, adds a 0.11-per cent property tax increase and the buyer adds a 0.06-per cent tax increase. The project engineer’s salary will come out of reserves for 2021 and 2022 and will not impact property taxes.

The manager of sustainability will bring at least a 0.05-per cent tax increase as council committed to the position regardless of whether the city is successful in securing a B.C. Hydro grant to help cover the cost of the position.

Staff had recommended the manager of sustainability be contingent on the grant money, but Coun. Ben Geselbracht motioned that the city move forward with the position either way.

“We need to have the strategic capacity to work across departments on all different types of initiatives,” he said.

Among those who spoke in favour of the motion was Coun. Tyler Brown, who said he would support 10 more of those types of positions.

“It is literally the greatest single challenge our species has had to face since industrialization and runaway climate change,” Brown said. “Climate change is continually delayed and denied and we’re at the point where we are out of time in solving it.”

Mayor Leonard Krog said while all members of council accept human-caused climate change, he felt that staff’s recommendation was appropriate.

“We are not just responsible for our children’s future, we’re responsible stewards of the current incomes and assets of the taxpayers of Nanaimo,” Krog said.

The mayor did support the buyer position, saying he thinks the benefits to the local economy of a “successful sustainable procurement program” will more than make up for the cost of the position. He said the city can take lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic about supply chains and provisioning.

“If we do this well, we will grow the local economy,” added Coun. Erin Hemmens. “We will buy more local goods, we will support more local employment.”

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Staff had asked for the project engineer as a permanent position, but Brown asked that it be a two-year-term position funded out of the special initiatives reserve. After staff advised councillors on the challenges of hiring for that sort of term position, Coun. Don Bonner asked for an amendment to make it a permanent hire, but funded out of reserves for the first two years.

Coun. Ian Thorpe pointed out that funding the position that way commits the next council to a tax increase.

Staff added that the position could lead to certain cost savings for the city.

“What we do right now is we factor in consulting and project management costs into projects, so as we build the next plan, it will allow us to dial that back a little bit,” said Poul Rosen, director of engineering. “What will end up happening is the project costs will go down commensurate with the contribution this position can bring to the city.”

In discussing the business case for a municipal services inspector, Thorpe spoke in favour, saying the position will improve efficiency and relates to a core service of the city.

The motion to hire a manager of sustainability regardless of any grant funding passed 5-4 with Krog, Thorpe and councillors Jim Turley and Sheryl Armstrong opposed.

Hiring a buyer passed 6-3 with Armstrong, Thorpe and Turley opposed.

The motion to hire a project engineer and fund the position from reserves in 2021 and 2022 passed 7-2 with Thorpe and Turley opposed.

Hiring a municipal services inspector passed 5-4 with Armstrong, Geselbracht, Bonner and Brown opposed.

Also at Friday’s meeting, city staff and councillors discussed business cases for a manager of social planning and an indigenous engagement specialist, but there were no motions put forward regarding those positions.

City councillors are now working with a 3.6-per cent projected property tax increase, with a budget-focused e-town hall meeting tonight, Dec. 7, followed by another special finance and audit committee meeting Wednesday, Dec. 9.

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