Coun­cil­lors eye staff cuts aired in se­cret re­view

Year-old re­port sug­gests chop­ping 45 jobs from city’s so­cial ser­vices de­part­ment

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - MATTHEW VAN DONGEN The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor

Coun­cil­lors in search of bud­get cuts are eye­ing a year-old se­cret con­sult­ing re­port that rec­om­mended re­struc­tur­ing to cut 45 jobs from the city’s so­cial ser­vices de­part­ment.

The On­tario Works re­view by SHS Con­sult­ing was com­pleted last March but only pre­sented in fi­nal form to coun­cil­lors be­hind closed doors Feb. 3.

A redacted copy of the re­port’s ex­ec­u­tive sum­mary is now posted on­line with­out ref­er­ence to spe­cific staff-cut rec­om­men­da­tions.

But The Spec­ta­tor has learned var­i­ous drafts of the re­port have sug­gested cut­ting 45 or more of 347 On­tario Works po­si­tions un­der re­view since 2015.

The rec­om­men­da­tions would af­fect work­ers rang­ing from man­agers to em­ploy­ment coun­sel­lors.

Joe-Anne Priel , gen­eral man­ager of com­mu­nity and emer­gency ser­vices, said the re­view is pri­vate be­cause it names spe­cific em­ploy­ees and po­si­tions but added the city is al­ready act­ing on some rec­om­men­da­tions. If any fur­ther jobs cuts are deemed nec­es­sary, Priel said she wants them to hap­pen “by at­tri­tion.”

“This is go­ing to af­fect po­si­tions, not peo­ple,” she said. “My goal is to max­i­mize the use of va­can­cies (for any cuts) … This is not go­ing to hap­pen overnight.”

The On­tario Works sec­tion of the city’s so­cial ser­vices de­part­ment han­dles ad­min­is­tra­tion of pro­vin­cial wel­fare pay­ments, ben­e­fits el­i­gi­bil­ity, em­ploy­ment coun­selling, fam­ily and home­less­ness sup­ports.

The pro­posed 2017 bud­get al­ready sug­gests com­bin­ing some de­part­men­tal man­ager jobs and re­duc­ing other un­spec­i­fied full­time or tem­po­rary po­si­tions by 15.

So far, the city is propos­ing to re-

the On­tario Works bud­get to $16 mil­lion from $19 mil­lion last year.

But coun­cil­lors try­ing to stave off a threat­ened four or five per cent aver­age tax hike have asked for more sav­ings and a se­cond look at the rec­om­men­da­tions in the still- se­cret con­sult­ing re­port.

San­dra Walker, pres­i­dent of the union rep­re­sent­ing On­tario Works em­ploy­ees, said she was aware of the re­view but hasn’t seen a copy.

Walker said she would fol­low up with man­agers to de­ter­mine what, if any, im­pact the re­port might have on bud­geted jobs.

Mayor Fred Eisen­berger wouldn’t com­ment Wed­nes­day on the ex­act num­bers in the con­sult­ing re­view or the po­ten­tial job cuts be­ing dis­cussed be­hind closed doors.

But the mayor said he un­der­stands there are staffing changes rec­om­mended by the con­sul­tant that have not yet been adopted.

“It (the re­view) is cer­tainly some­thing that is in play,” he said.

“But I don’t know, frankly where we’re go­ing to end up … or whether there will even be any sig­nif­i­cant changes.”

The 2017 bud­get de­bate has in­duce more than one closed-door meet­ing on pos­si­ble hir­ing freezes or staff cuts in part be­cause of the search for bud­get cuts.

To keep the aver­age tax hike be­low two per cent, the city would have to cut an ex­tra $20 mil­lion from the pro­posed 2017 op­er­at­ing bud­get.

The redacted ex­ec­u­tive sum­mary of the On­tario Works re­view says the con­sul­tants were tasked with find­ing the most “sus­tain­able” struc­ture for the de­part­ment.

It was also sup­posed to look at the need for 30 tem­po­rary front­line work­ers hired in 2009 to help deal with a spike in wel­fare cases Hamil­ton ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing the re­ces­sion.

Those work­ers, funded from re­serves, have been kept on each year partly be­cause of a stub­bornly high wel­fare caseload that re­mains above 12,000.

The ex­tra work­ers also came in handy in 2015 to deal with work­load prob­lems caused by the bug-rid­den roll­out of the prov­ince’s new wel­fare man­age­ment soft­ware.

Priel said she ex­pects to find enough sav­ings by the end of 2017 to no longer have to fund any po­si­tions from re­serves.

This is go­ing to af­fect po­si­tions, not peo­ple. JOE-ANNE PRIEL GEN­ERAL MAN­AGER OF COM­MU­NITY AND EMER­GENCY SER­VICES

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