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:
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.
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.