Councillors eye staff cuts aired in secret review
Year-old report suggests chopping 45 jobs from city’s social services department
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