By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Hamilton politicians are defending the nearly $462,000 in net costs to hire more staff for their ward offices to alleviate their overworked assistants.
“This council has historically operated at the lowest it can,” said Stoney Creekcouncillor Brad Clark. “It’s remarkable how cheap we have got. And it’s the service to the public that suffers.”
Past decisions to limit the financial resources of politicians and their staffs are now catching up to them, impacting how they respond to their constituents’ requests for help. Clark said his only staff person is working weekends and overtime as he responds to emails and telephone call from residents.
“The phone rings non-stop,” said Clark, who represents Ward 9. “I don’t like my assistant working at home to catch-up. Some people may run miracle offices; I’m not.”
Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson, who in the past was loath to spend money to hire more people, said his office is operating fine with just one assistant.
“I don’t need this,” said Ferguson. “I’m perfectly comfortable with one assistant.”
City politicians are looking at adding 8.50 full-time employees allow each politician to hire one-half staff person to help in their offices. Councillors initially agreed last year to the $461,695 net budget cost to assist overwhelmed staffs in wards 7 and 8, which represent the fastest growing areas in Hamilton. The idea is each councillor has the choice to dip into the extra money to hire an addition part-time staff person if they want to.
“It’s not outlandish in any shape or form,” said Clark.
Stoney Creek councillor Maria Pearson agreed, saying politicians have been frugal over the years with their individual office budgets. She said the additional cost for a staff person is vital to some wards.
“The public should understand that,” she said.
Councillors still have to give final approval for the item to be included in the 2013 budget.
The majority of councillors have one full-time assistant to handle their offices. But over the last year those staff people have been overwhelmed with citizens’ calls for help and information, councillors say. Clark said, for instance, neither he nor his assistant has time to research crucial issues, such as the recent casino debate, because of the administrative and constituency work that continues to increase.
The additional staff cost is only part of about $5 million in enhancements and council referred items politicians as they deliberated on last week for this year’s budget. So far the proposed average tax increase is sitting at 2.9 per cent or about $101 for an average household. It will take about $24 million in either cuts or finding new revenue sources to meet politicians’ zero per cent budget goal established last year. Last year’s tax increase was 0.8 per cent, a record in the post-amalgamation Hamilton.
If councillors added all of the proposed enhancements to the budget, they would boost the average tax increase to over 3 per cent, and contribute an extra $21 on each household’s tax bill.
The enhancements include $125,000 to the Supercrawl organizers, $2.4 million for sidewalk, road and storm water maintenance, expanding urban and rural grass cutting at about $600,000, and over $300,000 for transit service to the Red Hill Business Park.
Politicians continue their budget deliberations next week, with the goal of approving a budget by the end of March.