What works and who doesn’t

Big shout of thanks to Peter Ratcliffe for keeping the pot boiling during my absence. He gives this blog site a sense of decorum and balance, something I tend to forget. Thanks as well to Rod Birrell for sharing the high points(?) and documentation from last week’s March council meeting.

Upon our return from a whirlwind two weeks in Japan (I’ll be posting on our incredible trip later this week) the town’s response to my latest access to information request was in my inbox.
Back in mid-February I had asked for the most recent employment statistics and the new collective agreement. In return I received this all-in-one document:

organigramme

To summarize, Hudson employs 121 people, including part-time permanent, temporary/seasonal and occasional. This includes posts which have yet to be filled, such as that of treasurer. Fifteen are management positions. Another 38 are full-time positions, bringing the town’s full-time staff to 53. Hudson’s neighbours all have larger municipal payrolls but it’s difficult to compare. Regardless of size, every municipality has to have a bare-bones staff which includes a town manager, treasurer, clerk, urban planning and inspection department, public works department and a secretariat to move all that paper.

Those proposing to slash Hudson’s budget (revised downward to $12,456,000 for 2017) may be tempted to single out two high-cost services.

Communication, Parks and Recreation, Culture and Tourism, with a 2017 budget of $1.545 million and a staff of 51, makes no economic sense to me. We take the excellent Pilates courses offered at the Community Centre and find ourselves wondering why it takes four people to run the office when we sign in. During last month’s Shiver Fest, Phil Prince struggled to get everything done for the various events because he had no help. Why all the chiefs, why so few Indians? Jean Chevalier had more help on two-thirds the budget.

Then there’s the matter of the draft loan bylaw for a $555,000 renovation of the Community Centre. We’re told Canada 150 will pick up some of the bill. Some? Half? The question that comes to my mind is why the Community Centre needs two upgrades in five years. To give CPRCT’s empire-building bureaucracy more offices? To improve the shitty accoustics and execreble sound system in the main hall so citizens can hear the disinformational mumbling emanating from the folks up front? This administration needs to make a better case for adding a quarter million or more to the long-term debt load.

Moreover, the CPRCT budget does not include funding to Hudson’s arts, culture and tourism organizations. Here’s a partial list of who got funding and how much they received:

Hudson Parade Committee (2017 St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Festivities): $11,500
Hudson Music Festival: $15,000
Hudson Auto Show: $3,000
Hudson Village Theatre: $15,000
Greenwood Centre for Living History (2017 StoryFest) $5,000
Hudson Historical Society: $5,000
Arts Hudson: $200

That’s close to $55,000 that should be added to the CPRCT budget.

No other municipality in the MRC spends as much per capita on these services.

DSC_7616.JPG
Hudson’s Public Security director Philippe Baron at the 2014 St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Hudson’s $2.5M public security budget is the largest single 2017 expenditure, but it’s justified in the number of lives it saves. Can the same be said for Communication, Parks and Recreation, Tourism and Culture’s $1.6M budget?

Public security, with a budget of $2.5 million and a total roster of some 40, has just two full-time employees – the public security director and a captain. The 33-person fire department roster includes an assistant director, co-ordinator, three other captains, four lieutenants and 24 firefighters, all part-time.

This is consistent with the costs and staffing levels in other Vaudreuil-Soulanges municipalities offering 24/7 first responder services.

“Yes, (first response) costs money, but it saves lives in a town with an aging population,” a senior officer with another MRC fire department told me. Quebec subsidizes first responder services because ER statistics consistently show a 20-30% difference in heart attack and stroke survival rates in municipalities with first responders compared to those who depend on 9-1-1 ambulance service.

Firefighting services also benefit from having first responders, especially when the two are integrated, as in Hudson. “The tools and the training go hand in hand.”

The biggest issue facing volunteer fire departments throughout Quebec is having enough manpower to satisfy the minimum requirements of the notorious “schema” – the fire risk management plans required of every MRC in the province. “Because they have to work elsewhere to earn a living, fewer firefighters are available during the day.”

The answer, adds this officer, is to integrate services so that medically equipped pumpers are dispatched to all calls. In smaller towns such as Hudson, integration means fewer responders and vehicles are needed. “If responders get a fire call, they can head straight to that call, rather than having to return to the firehall to trade vehicles.”

By creating a shared response protocol among neighbouring municipalities, Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC’s schema has proven to be effective in ensuring a minimum of 10 firefighters within 15 minutes, a minimum volume of water and the availability of specialized equipment, such as aerial ladders. But it’s nowhere near enough to ensure the manpower or equipment needed in the event of a major disaster or fire in a high-risk structure such as Westwood Senior or Manoir Cavagnal.

Full disclosure: I survived a heart attack in 2012 because Hudson has a well-staffed, competent medical centre and first responders. I wouldn’t be alive today if I had depended on 9-1-1 ambulance response times.

Advertisements

9 thoughts on “What works and who doesn’t

  1. Jim, I can’t take credit for any boiling or balance, but thanks for the shout-out.

    Frankly it’s time to become unhinged and louder. Let’s make some noise.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hear there are a number of below-the-radar consultations among like-minded people, but I see no hope for a cohesive opposition to the re-election of as many as four current council members.
      There’s a group which takes what I feel are unrealistic positions on development issues. It’s one thing to pressure this administration to demand a wider beachfront and a green buffer as well as other considerations from Nicanco to allow their Pine Beach development. It’s another to expect the town to write a multimillion-dollar blank cheque to Nicanco for the whole 60 acres. The Nature Conservancy has already said it isn’t interested in owning and controlling access to a public beach. I suspect other NGOs are of similar mind – if the save-the-beach constituency has actually begun the legwork of contacting these organizations.
      If they’re leaving that initiative to Mayor Prévost and his administration, they delude themselves that anything will be accomplished.
      Another group is concerned about the town’s struggling commercial core. Discriminatory parking policies favour some businesses and penalize others. (Example: Hudson taxpayers subsidize Manoir Cavagnal residential parking in the Tree House Daycare and Community Centre parking lots). The threat of metered water hangs over commercial landlords.
      Vaudreuil-Dorion mayor Guy Pilon has this to say about the learning curve of council members:
      For the first two years they’re useless because they have to figure out what’s going on. The next two years they’re starting to learn how to work together as a council. By their second term they’re capable of working the way citizens want them to. By the third term, they get things done.
      All this to say there are members of the current council who deserve another term – if they want it. I won’t name them because I don’t think it helps anyone this early in the election cycle. Given Hudson’s electoral history, I don’t think it’s helpful to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

      Like

      1. Hey I’ve got a great idea.

        It’ll be expensive, but I think it’s important.

        Ten of my friends agree.

        Let’s use the internet to quickly get 500 signatures, not fully verified as to being eligible voters.

        Now we’ll demand that Town resources be used to explore making this happen and be indignant when they don’t.

        Go door to door, the old fashioned way, face to face contact, 25% of the population signed and verified and you’re maybe closer,

        But don’t fail to mention the cost and who will pay.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Does the Legion or the Manoir, or other clubs and organizations, get a reduced rate on sewer and water invoices unlike the rest of the businesses? How is that taxed again, on the number of seats if you have a restaurant? Legion has seats, Yatch Club has seats, churches, well churches don’t get taxed, at all? or just for property taxes? I think we, the taxpayers, subsidize schools and churches as though the town gets money from the government I doubt it covers the true total cost..

        Diane,
        Taxpayers subsidize all buildings which are listed as non-taxable on the town’s tax roll. It’s a public document and you only need an address to discover a property tax bill or whether a property is tax exempt. The list of non-taxable properties includes all three schools (all on the sewer system), four churches (two on the sewer system), two post offices needs verification), municipal buildings and the AMT right of way, including the platform but not the old station. I keep forgetting to check whether the two daycares are tax-exempt but I think they are.
        In return for all this, the town will receive a payment in lieu of taxes of $113,400 in 2017. That’s down from $117,990 in 2016. It doesn’t begin to cover value-based revenue.
        The Manoir, HYC, Whitlock, The Falcon and Como Golf all pay on the same basis as any other business. I posted all that back in January.

        Like

  2. My husband also survived a heart attack due to the quick response (under 2 minutes) of the Hudson fire dept. The nearest ambulance was in Valleyfield and arrived in 30 minutes. By then, my husband was stable, on oxygen. He made a full recovery, no damage whatsoever.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have no problem with council spending our money for security. I also, had an emergency with my mom a few years ago. She had trouble breathing and the first responders were at our house in a flash. Very professional and I was extremely grateful that they were there before the ambulance.
    I also like having a Public Security force although you keep hearing that we should get rid of the service. That’s why we live in a small town, where you can call Public Security when you are having problems with a neighbour’s dog or people partying well into the night. Now though you have to call 311 I believe, and most residents give up. Try calling the SQ for every little thing. Seems foolish to me. I nave used the services of public security only once and as a last resort but it gives me comfort that it’s there. (one of the neighbors was lighting fireworks and they were landing on our awning and wouldn’t stop). They can also check on seniors living alone to make sure they are ok. One year, I guess in 2014 or 2015, when we were going away for an extended period, I called Philip Baron to let him know and would public security check from the road, that nothing looked amiss (like a moving van in the driveway!). Don’t you remember telling public security in other towns that you would be away and if, and I said if, they passed by the house, give a cursory look that all seemed well I was told that no they couldn’t do that as there was an insurance liability issue at stake. Isn’t that why you live in a little town? Actually, in Beaconsfield, we know the public security guys as they drove around the neighbourhood and used to let them know, no problem. But public security in Hudson doesn’t do that.
    About the cost, yes Public Security can get expensive. I had suggested while on council, to use the Baie D’Urfe and Cote St. Luc model of a volunteer public security. Buy a couple of vans/SUV, buy some uniforms and let willing , vetted and trained, citizens each do a 2 hour2man shift. Certainly wouldn’t cost what it costs now. It just didn’t fly with our council.
    As far as the fire department itself, yes, spend for security but I question this council;s getting away from leasing the fleet to actually going back to purchasing. I guess they don’t remember the out-of-countrol maintenance and repair costs that I remember, as you probably do too. That rolling stock needs higher maintenance than the average car or truck. We had discussed even hiring a full time mechanic to service all those vehicles but eventually decided, like a lot of other towns, to lease the fleet, the registrations are taken care off, all the maintenance too. A council knows how much to budget for each and every year of the term of the lease.
    And the road situation? got to be the worst snow-clearing ever! believe that Gruenwald sold his equipment, that may be a reason why he didn’t bid but really, take the lowest bid but no cap on salt or sand? I too have seen them spread salt and sand where it was not needed. My daughter also saw them just dump a ton of salt in a pile in the middle of the road and then leave. Who are those guys?

    Like

    1. I’ve discussed the own vs buy issue with a number of Canada’s top fire chiefs.

      All said to buy good used coming off service from a major city (well maintained from new and policy of early replacement) and then maintain them well.

      All said leasing made no long term sense for a small town.

      The problems Hudson had in the past with maintenance costs was largely from being too cheap and buying trucks that were too old or not well maintained. Looked cheap on the way in then the costs went wild over too many years of service.

      With a professional fire chief deciding to buy versus lease I think it’s a good decision.

      Like

    1. No, these were discussions I had when gathered at a Fallen Firefighter’s event about what the best choices for ensuring good safe small town equipment at lowest total cost was.

      The consensus was to buy first generation used, ie from a major player who would keep the equipment for only 5-7 years and then replace. We were buying too much 3-4 generation crap, because we focused on what we could buy without debt and not what we needed and how to do that at the lowest cost.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s