Getting it right

Getting your staffing right in any business is important.  Too many staff and you are inefficient. Too few staff and customer service might suffer, productive opportunities might be missed and/or your risks might increase.

I know this is an area of interest for some members of the community. I often hear criticism that the number of staff at City Hall is too high. 

How can Council and the taxpayer better understand the level of staffing at the City and have confidence it is appropriate for the level of service we provide and in many cases are mandated by Provincial legislation to provide?

In my opinion, we need to do a better job than we have been.

During budget deliberations, Council receives a summary of the full time equivalents (FTE) proposed to deliver services for the upcoming year.  Full time and part time staff make up the FTE number (see the end of this post for more definitions).  The change in these FTE counts over the last number of years has often been cited as evidence that something is amiss.

However, in my opinion, using this data is useless in understanding the appropriate level of staffing at City Hall.

Why do I say this? 

At a fundamental level, the data that is being used is flawed.  Different Treasurers, different Councils and even different Departments within City Hall have calculated their FTEs differently. For instance, some years, part time staff were included in the FTE count and in other years not.  Sometimes head count is recorded instead of FTEs.

Even if this historical data could be reliably compared, there are several reasons why it would still not be a useful indicator.  Here are a couple reasons to illustrate what I mean:

  • Before ambulance service was brought in house, we paid the wages and benefits of our paramedics through a contract.  When we brought the service in house, we began paying their wages and benefits through our payroll.  That meant 78 FTEs began to be recorded on our books leading to a spike that year – no new people, they were just accounted for differently.

Does it mean we are more inefficient or over staffed when these FTEs went up?  No.  We actually achieved efficiencies and saved money by bringing the service in house

  • There are three facilities that have added significantly to our FTE count over the last decade because of the large number of part time staff that they employ – the River Run, Sleeman Centre and West End Community Centre.  The number of part time staff at any given time goes up and down depending on programming.  Storm games and other bookings put our FTE count up.  That is a good thing. When booking go down, our FTE count goes down.

Does it mean we are more efficient when these FTEs go down?  No.  In fact, our revenues will also drop and the cost to the taxpayer for maintaining these facilities will increase. 

  • The wages and benefits of some staff at City Hall are paid for entirely through the fees charged for the service (e.g. a River Run performance) or funds received through a program (e.g. the 100% federally-funded Local Immigration Partnership program has 3 FTEs).  If the service or program does not occur or ends, FTEs go down. 

Does it mean we are more efficient when these FTEs go down?  No.  It just means we have fewer services or programs being delivered.  We certainly saw this during the recession in some areas (e.g. Building Services).

There are other examples (some may catch some in this year’s Water and Wastewater User Pay Budgets) but these illustrate my point.  

I am not saying Council shouldn’t be tracking staff complement – quite the contrary.   Wages, salaries and benefits represent a significant part of our operating budget.  Rather, we need a better way.

Through changes in the way that Council has organized itself this term, our committees are better positioned to provide oversight of the services they are responsible for and to better understand staffing levels and productivity.  These discussions have already begun along with discussions about moving to performance-based budgeting.

Some additional facts and definitions:

FTE = Full Time Equivalent = a budgeted amount to represent permanent full and part-time productive hours of work

City departments budget hours of work depending on program and service needs.  Full time hours can vary from 2184 to 1820 hours per year, while part time hours can vary from 20 hours to 30 hours in most cases.

FTE’s are NOT the same thing as headcount or counting the number of positions and jobs in the City.

Headcount = the actual number of individuals employed by the City at a given point in time. This number will fluctuate depending on the time of year e.g. increase in summer when students are employed, or when extra staff are needed for shows at the River Run, etc.

A “Position” = category of work e.g. Lifeguard

A “Job” = A position in which someone is employed.

The number of FTE’s will not reconcile to the number of jobs and positions and will not reconcile to the number of actual people employed at any one time.

About Karen Farbridge

An unwavering change maker seeking a just, democratic and sustainable world.

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3 Comments on “Getting it right”

  1. Doug Roach Says:

    How are temps or contract jobs counted?
    What cost is involved, on an average?
    How many jobs in this grouping are there?

  2. kfarbridge Says:

    Doug, you have identified another of layer of complexity to this discussion that I did not touch on in my blog. Temporary or contract positions (these are the same thing) are not included in our FTE count. As has been reported in previous budgets, they are few in number. Their use for the majority of our workforce is limited by union contracts. There is another group called casual employees which are part-time and on call for events. The use of casual employees would vary significantly between departments and from week to week depending on the number of events.

  3. Doug Roach Says:

    Sorry Karen.
    Did you not read the three simple questions?
    Or did you not have the answers available?
    If the information isn,t available, one would wonder, how a budget could be produced?

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