Bare-bones roads department limits options for cuts
Consultants deliver interim report to Huntsville council
HUNTSVILLE – The Town of Huntsville’s roads department is operating skinny.
Consultants are in the midst of reviewing the Town of Huntsville's public infrastructure department for efficiency and cost-savings. But one consultant has suggested that he is hesitant to cut services at the Canada Summit Centre.
Oscar Poloni and Chas Anselmo, consultants with a company called KPMG, presented an interim report of their ongoing operational review of the town’s public infrastructure department during a council meeting on Wednesday, March 6.
“We are about 75 per cent complete,” said Poloni of the review that began in January. “We’re in the process of identifying opportunities. So, from a timing perspective, and a progress perspective, personally I’m very happy with how it’s going. No major issues.”
But what the final report will recommend to create cost savings and efficiency within the department when it is presented to council on or before April 1 is unclear.
However, Poloni hinted that staff cuts and service level reductions would likely not be on the list.
“One of the major indicators of efficiency opportunities is what your staffing levels are,” he said. “We’re finding that you’re at the low end of the range.”
He noted that Huntsville has about 14 operators in its roads department, or two full-time roads employees for every 100 kilometers of single-lane road in the municipality.
Compared to municipalities with a broader geography or municipalities with less space and more condensed services, Huntsville has fewer roads staff members. For example, Muskoka Lakes has about 2.5 employees per 100-lane kilometres, while Midland has about 7.5.
“What this tells us, the term we use, quite frankly, is you’re running skinny,” said Poloni.
But Poloni commented on the town’s departmental reorganization and creation of a customer service centre that happened over the last year and said it was difficult to make precise comparisons with other municipalities because staff responsibilities, such as administrative functions, had moved between departments.
However, he said the consultants were surprised to learn how small the roads department’s staff compliment is and noted that the finance department, which handles complex procurement and invoicing duties related to public works and other departments, has only five people.
He said the consultants were also “impressed” by the limited number of administrative assistants, which is the first place consultants usually look to cut costs.
“In terms of staffing sizes and staffing compliment, even from an overall perspective, our experience for communities this size is that your staffing levels are on the low end,” said Poloni. “Does this mean you’re as efficient as you can be? No. Does it mean there are opportunities for enhancement? Nothing is perfect, there is always room for change.”
And while council has little appetite to cut public works service levels based on a survey consultants asked councillors to complete, there does not seem to be much to cut, regardless.
“What we found from the service level reduction is that there are very limited opportunities that we’re prepared to bring forward unless council asks us to,” said Poloni. “What you will find from a roads function is that you’re operating close to the minimum service standard. You don’t have a lot of room to move. And based on council’s decisions, you may not want to move.”
He noted that service levels are often dictated by a municipality’s infrastructure and referred to Huntsville’s recreation centre, the Canada Summit Centre, which was built with funds from the G8 Summit’s infrastructure legacy fund.
“It’s absolutely the nicest facility I have ever been into in my life. … But with that comes an expectation that you’re going to operate it,” said Poloni. “You have two ice pads. I can tell you, if you want to save money, shut down one of the ice pads. But I’d much prefer to get out of town alive.”
He said there were other options for service reductions, but cutting spending on items, such as horticulture, will have neither a huge impact on the budget nor support from councillors.
But while there are some recommendations the consultants may shy away from, there are others that may make it to the council table next month.
Those recommendations may include staff reallocation, process efficiencies, cost recovery through user fees and alternate service delivery models.
Poloni noted that most of the public works department’s overtime is logged in the winter when operators are plowing and maintaining snowy or icy roads. In some cases, the overtime is equivalent to an additional five full-time employees.
But he said in the summer there may be an excess of staff, though most of the summer seasonal employees work part-time.
The consultants are now examining contracting in and contracting out services and whether the town can cut back on overtime and save money by doing so. And they are looking at changing the cost-sharing agreement with the District of Muskoka for maintaining district roads.
The consultants may also recommend changes to town administrative processes, particularly when it comes to processing public works transactions and invoices.
Poloni noted that administrative staff completes a minimum of 30 steps to process an invoice, which does not include the steps taken by public works staff before the invoice gets to administration.
“The challenge is that as long as it stays the way it does, your staff is at capacity. Something needs to change,” he said. “I would suggest to council that it would probably be unfair to expect your finance department to do more.”
Nothing has been finalized. Poloni said the consultants are still interviewing staff, union representatives, councillors and senior management.
And once the final report comes to council in April, the consultants will conduct individual interviews with councillors to gather feedback on the report.