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PEC budget: Bring Out the Scalpels and Machetes

Steve Campbell

I’m about to get really busy, so you might not hear from me again for a while. Also I may have to leave the country after I write this final column on the Budget Issue.
The heat is on, based on the explorations in my previous columns, but it’s now time to take out the scalpel and machete, and start looking for Real County Budget Savings.
Only a fool would walk through the door I’m about to open, but I’m cursed with the need to speak my mind.
First, let’s explore the territory, as we know it. By ‘we’ I mean the common taxpaying folk of the County. The ‘Illuminati’ in Council and County Staff know WAY more than we do about how the whole Glorious County Machine works, but we only know what we see.
We look to our councillors, as we have always done, to represent our interests. And, for the most part, they do that job. Except for the councillors who make their own minds up, and forge ahead on the basis of their superior brilliance, and ignore public input.
One of the major problems we have is that WE think Council runs the County. Well, councils come and go. Names and faces change. And ‘newbies’ are thrown into a ‘Disneyland’ that doesn’t make a lot of sense, by normal human standards.
But, thank God, there is one thing that is consistent: the Staff.
Councillors come and go, but the Staff knows how to get things done.

The Staff has their own agenda. They know what it takes to get the job done, and they do it. We can thank them for that.
Sadly, councillors have only the staff to turn to for answers, and the answers often benefit the staff more than the rest of us. With the enormous amount of staff we now have, the solution to a project is always the same: Let’s use our County workers.
The problem is, I don’t think this is always the cost-effective way to go.
Let me give you an example. At County Magazine, I used to run a small press to meet my needs. The first two issues were produced on it. As circulation grew, I was faced with buying a bigger press. But I looked around, and every printer around me was installing a brand new giant press. And they were hungry for work.
This is the lesson I learned: Know when to bring it ‘in house’, and know when to subcontract to people who can do it cheaper.
Here in the County, it’s hard to get a handle on the Actual Cost of a job.
When the Roads Department, for example, states the cost of repairing a road, do they include the cost of labour of the County workers?
In typical Word on the Street fashion, a client brought this to my attention. The cost of labour is already included in the budget for the road department for the year. My client suggested that the total cost of repairs INCLUDED the cost of labour.
This is called ‘double-dipping’. It was paid for once in the main budget for the department, and then expensed again as a ‘cost against the job’.
This is a wild claim, and I have no idea if this is true, or whether it’s another paper shuffle to make the Books look better. But it brings me to the next point.
I don’t expect councillors to understand the bizarre workings of the departments they serve but, as I said before, I suspect there is big money being lost there. It’s like inheriting a company that makes widgets, and you have no idea what a widget is.
So, back to creative thinking.
How about we assign a councillor, or maybe two, to each department, and have them ‘go to school’ on how that specific department operates.
I don’t offer this lightly, because I know that councillors are already road-weary from the load of meetings, reports  and deputations that demand immediate attention. Seriously, we don’t give them enough credit for the hours they consume trying to serve us.
But they do have the ability to do what we can’t do: Eyeball the operation of the giant machine that is driving us into oblivion.
Here’s another part of the problem: ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’.
Once again, I feel the pain of councillors. It used to be you could discuss an issue, slam a gavel, and the deal was done.
Now there are provincial and federal regulations, two or more ministries, countless lobby groups who have weedled their way into positions of authority, and must be consulted on the possible implications of blah-blah-blah.
In short, Council is faced with the same problem we are, as individuals.
There’s way too many people out there saying ‘No’, and not enough of us saying “Yes’. Way, way, way too many cooks to make a good meal. And way too many Watchdogs to get the job done simply, cheaply and easily.
It’s too late to say: “Leave us alone. We can fix it ourselves, if you would just get out of the way.”
Last, here’s the toughest part. I’m afraid the scalpel needs to be put to the Union.
During my stint as a teacher, I automatically joined OPSEU, though I don’t remember signing a membership application. When fellow members found out I ran a business, while teaching, they were all envious.
“We hate people like you,” one teacher said. “You get to make your own decisions, you don’t have Admin on your butt all the time, you can take free time whenever you want, and you don’t have to take crap from anybody.”
My reply: “Well, the downside is: If I’m not working, I don’t make money.”
“Here, you can teach for 20 minutes, issue an assignment, go to your office, put your feet on the desk, and pull the rye bottle from your desk drawer … and you still get the same paycheque at the end of the week – same as you would if you were actually DOING your job.”
So I’m not a big fan of unions, because they don’t reward ability or excellence or, for that matter, even competence. They reward seniority, ever-increasing wages, big pensions and benefits. And, once you’re ‘in’, the union will fight tooth and nail to protect you. Even if you don’t perform.
In the end, if they truly wish to bring their budget back into line, Council will need to look at the cost efficiency of their union agreements. Once again, they need to get maximum value for the dollars spent. I hate to suggest job cuts, because the New Blood will suffer, and the Old Farts will stay, that’s the Union Way.
Traditionally, union reps will not take an across-the-board pay cut to protect everyone’s job. Because the corporation would win. They would rather lose half their members in job cuts, and smile smugly that the ‘old boys’ at the top kept their wage and pensions.
On that note, I heard a union rep on the radio saying: “If we’d known they MEANT IT when they said, ‘This is the final deal or we close the doors’, we’d have settled.” They shut down the plant. It’s a game, and the union lost that one.
I think it would be a much better world, and a much better County, if we stopped listening to the people who purport to help us, and just do what we think is right.
I’ve taken four pay cuts in four years. Why not bring County employees into that world? The Real World.

Filed Under: News from Everywhere ElseSteve Campbell

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  1. Doris Lane says:

    I said I was going to stop commenting on things but I just have to say that “M” has got it right–too many high paid managers is correct–I think we have about 5 or 6 manager types in a department that used to run by volunteers
    Just look at the mess that has happened at McAuley house over the last several years
    I also understand that there are several people in the finance department–maybe one or two might be enough
    Council instead of hiring 3 more people this year you should have been cutting staff.
    There was a letter a couple of weeks ago by Paul Boyd who used to be the Reeve of Ameliasburgh before amalgamation. He said we didn’t have any of these managers types

  2. m says:

    Steve the County Unionized Municipal Employees wages aren’t the problem with our taxes. The Counselors need to look at all the cheifs running the show. We have had more management hired to run the show that workers to do it. Look at all the posting for new manager positions in the last few years. The County no unionied staff are be paid higher than some municipalities with larger budgets. Why are we hiring manager to handle jobs that many of the workers looked after. When we reorganize we hire more managers to manage the same amount of workers and counsel lets it happen. The County loses more staff due to stress of working with alot of Managers that don’t have a clue how to manage their department or Staff. They should look at all the projects that went over budget and who was incharge of them,the moral of the staff, and why do we have such a large turn over in our departments. Contractors quote low hourly rates and everything is and extra at the end of the job it cost more. The manager cover it up because they are unsure of what it takes to do the job or they really don’t have a clue of the operations they are just great talkers. Some of the Manager should be in politics don’t need alot of education don’t have to answer why things are going south, and get great pay and vacation for it. We need our county workers that have worked and lived here all there life step up to the plate and tell us what we need to do to save money. These people are the ones that can save the county money and at the end reduce our tax increase. I understand from your article that you dislike unions and seem to have a dislike for teachers and unionized staff but these are the people that make the county, from teachering our children and for providing us a great community that many visitors visit and some stay.

  3. Beth says:

    Steve must have been teaching at the college level, those instructors are part of OPSEU.

  4. virginia says:

    Steve: All discussion of taxes,etc aside, I have to say —
    —-I don’t know what kind of teacher you were, but OPSEU is not the union for any teachers in the school system that I ever knew.
    Also, is it responsible to quote the allegations of a client when you don’t even know that what they said was true?

  5. Doris Lane says:

    Excellent article Steve–you are right a lot of the private sector are taking pay cuts so should the staff at shire hall–why should the rate payer take all the hits?

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