Several City of Port Alberni departments are asking for additional staffing in the 2020-2024 draft budget because of an increased workload.
On Thursday, Dec. 5, Port Alberni city council held the last of three committee of the whole meetings in a row to hear various city departments describe what they want from the overall 2020-2024 budget.
City planner Katelyn McDougall said on Thursday that she has some concerns about how she will be able to deliver on council’s strategic priorities, as the planning department is already working over capacity with limited staff and limited resources.
“We’ve seen a 25 percent increase this year alone in the number of applications being processed,” she said. “That means there’s less support for clients, because we’re stretched thinner, and slower processing times.”
The city’s draft budget shows that one additional staff member will be hired next year, and the city has also budgeted $80,000 for consulting services in 2020 to help with updating the Official Community Plan.
Because of this, the planning department’s costs will increase by a whopping 69 percent. In dollar figures, the department’s expenditures are increasing from $375,743 in 2019 to $462,660 in 2020.
“I know the 69 percent looks very, very large,” said McDougall. “It’s because we have a very small budget. When you add anything to a small budget, it’s going to look like a big increase.”
Wilf Taekema, director of engineering and public works, is also requesting an increase in staffing, with one part-time position becoming full-time.
Council has included $1.5 million in the draft capital plan over the next three years for a number of projects to revitalize Third Avenue, Argyle Street and the Harbour Quay entrance. Another goal over the next five years is organics diversion in conjunction with the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District, although funding is still to be determined for this initiative.
Taekema is asking for one current half-time engineering technologist position be made into a full-time position.
“That’s our ask around staffing to make sure that all these things get done,” said Taekema.
Thursday also included a presentation from economic development manager Pat Deakin, who said that business retention and attraction is prohibited by rising costs, a changing economy and a slow population growth.
“It’s getting harder and harder for businesses of all sizes to stay afloat,” he said.
There are a number of things the city can do to help. Deakin brought up Langford as an example, as the city has reduced barriers for local businesses by charging only a one-time business license fee. Port Alberni businesses pay an annual fee.
Port Alberni should also be investing in lifestyle and beautification in order to grow the population, he added.
Council will continue budget meetings on Tuesday, Dec. 10 at 6 p.m. Tuesday’s meeting will include a presentation from the Western Vancouver Island Industrial Heritage Society (WVIIHS), with a proposed five-year business plan for the Alberni Pacific Railway.
Meetings are livestreamed and budget presentations will be uploaded to the City of Port Alberni’s website at www.portalberni.ca/budget the day after the presentation is made public.