New budget chairwoman; first four departments reviewed

Cornwall Coun. Bernadette Clement was elected chairwoman Jan. 29, 2015 to drive the financial meetings over the next two months. Seated next to Clement is Deputy Clark Manon Levesque. (Cornwall Newswatch/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – The city’s first four departments have been reviewed by the budget committee Thursday under the supervision of a new chairwoman.

Coun. Bernadette Clement was elected by her peers to oversee the process which is expected to take at least five meetings over the course of two months.

The entire council and the mayor then got down to business looking through the council, Chief Administrative Office, clerk and human resources departments.

These budgets are relatively small compared to some of the bigger departments like municipal works, transit and solid waste, which will be tackled Friday.

The council budget has an overall decrease of 0.08 per cent however CFO Maureen Adams told councillors an adjustment will be made to add in a cost of living increase of roughly $18,000 total for the entire council. Council recently voted to rescind a large pay hike recommended by a consultant and passed by the previous council.

The Chief Administrative Office budget has a 4.33 per cent increase for 2015, mostly due to an increase on salaries and benefits under contract but there are no changes in staffing. The department also has a tablet on its list for $1,600.

Clerk Helen Finn presented her department with an overall increase of 0.32 per cent. Finn told the budget committee the city was able to renegotiate a lease on a photo copier, which save the municipality some money. Those savings offset weak sales of souvenirs. Coun. Maurice Dupelle asked why only $29,000 of salaries and benefits in 2014 had been spent while $71,000 had been budgeted. Finn said the department has been short staffed and lost an employee to another department during the year.

This was the first Cornwall city budget for Human Resources Manager Geoff Clarke. His departmental budget has an increase of 5.31 per cent. Clarke says they are facing increase costs for the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) payments and the HR manager said he would be doing more investigation into what was causing the increase. The budget committee will soon get information on WSIB claims from 2010-2014.

Coun. Brock Frost questioned whether the city had explored benefits for councillors, similar to those given to municipal employees. Frost had asked for a report on the cost of a benefit plan for elected officials. “I think we’re the only body in the city that doesn’t retain benefits,” Frost said. But Coun. Andre Rivette says benefits will cost money and asking for that information is just impeding the budget process. “Do part time employees get part time? There could be the argument that we’re part time,” Coun. McIntosh added. The committee then voted down the request.

The discussion also focused on staffing levels. Coun. Claude McIntosh tallied up the bodies at city hall which is 595, including police. The budget committee has asked for a report on the staffing levels in similar communities, cities like North Bay.

Budget talks continue throughout the day with the planning and financial services department still to present.

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