Fiscal restraint rejected, EDO to be hired asap

By Mike Williscraft

Grimsby town council turned a rare triple play Monday night, three instances where the town’s taxpayers were snubbed, says Coun. Reg Freake.

While some members of council hoped to have some recently approved budget items reconsidered and a hiring freeze implemented, a vote to get that on the table was lost. In fact, in a 5-4 vote, council opted to bump up the hiring of an economic development officer (EDO) from September to immediately.

The third item which set social media ablaze Tuesday morning was council’s insistance in maintaining a two per cent wage hike which was activated Jan. 1, 2020 as part of a long-ago negotiated pay package which included Town staff as well.

Not only was a motion to rescind the pay increase defeated by a 5-4 vote but the bylaw approval portion of the council session – which basically includes the ratification of all the business conducted at a given meeting – was also approved by the same 5-4 vote on first, second and third readings.
Councillors John Dunstall, Kevin Ritchie, Randy Vaine, Dave Sharpe and Dave Kadwell comprised the the five votes each time, while Mayor Jeff Jordan and Councillors Dorothy Bothwell, Lianne Vardy and Reg Freake were in the minority.

Regarding the pay increase, while Bothwell and Vardy both spoke to the need for council to set an example for the community and consider anything to improve the Town’s financial position no matter how small, Vaine wrote off the discussion.

“We need to keep the town moving forward and stop this grandstanding,” said Vaine.

While Sharpe called the increase a cost of living adjustment, Town finance director Steve Gruninger said it was not, noting it was a negotiated pay increase put in place with the last round of discussions with Town staff.

The economic development officer matter got off to a shaky start when Vardy asked if a two-thirds majority would be needed to accelerate the EDO hire since it was already approved for September as part of the budget process.

Town clerk Sarah Kim said staff found efficiences to offset the projected cost of the estimated 3-4 months of pay for the position. It was stated during the budget process the position will cost about $150,000 with salary, benefits and travel expenses included.

“It’s interesting they could find $40,000 to offset cost but during the budget process we were told every stone had been turned to find savings. I guess not,” said Freake after the meeting.

Vaine and Ritchie both said they received emails from Grimsby business owners pleading for the immediate hire of an EDO. No names were provided.

While proponents of the hire, including CAO Harry Schlange, cited the impact of COVID-19 as the reason to get someone in place asap, Bothwell noted there is a great deal of resources in place to help municipalities already.

“We can do that (support the business community) with the resources we already have available,” said Bothwell.

When asked what kind of strategy would be in place, Schlange said he would have the EDO “establish business relationships.”

Freake said if staff found, $40,000 in efficiencies, great, hold onto those funds to improve the Town’s cash flow.

“Let’s go with the resources we have. It does not require a high-falluting EDO,” said Freake, adding he agreed with Bothwell that there is a plethora of information in the public realm already.

Jordan said the issue is much larger than the hiring of an EDO.

“We need to spend as little as possible to improve our liquidity right now,” said Jordan.

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