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Council weary of “mass exodus”

Training costs raise questions around turnover within city staff

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Mayor John Henry says the city is not facing a crisis over employees leaving city hall. During budget deliberations, it was announced that the city will be losing approximately eight per cent of its staff this year for a variety of reasons, including resignations and retirements.

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

It was a small pill, but council had a hard time swallowing it.

During the first round of budget deliberations on Monday, city council, looking to defer a $10,000 fee to send one employee for an educational course, found themselves in discussions about the impending turnover within city staff.

“We are about to be in a crisis,” said Councillor Amy McQuaid-England, pointing to a “mass exodus” of employees that is expecting to leave the city due to a variety of reasons, including retirements and resignations.

According to Jackie Long, the city’s director of human resources, Oshawa is expected to see nearly twice as many employees leaving in 2016 than what was seen in 2015.

“The numbers are quite concerning,” she said.

Last year, the city saw a turnover in approximately 4.9 per cent of its staff; that number is expected to jump to approximately eight per cent for this year, or approximately 64 positions.

The discussions erupted after a motion from Councillor Bob Chapman to remove a $10,000 cost for an employee training course in the corporate services department.

The cost was ruled by some councillors as too high to allot to a single employee and could be better used by allowing fair opportunities for all city employees.

“I believe that it is wrong to benefit one person, outside policy, outside fairness and outside the normal budgetary process,” said Councillor Nancy Diamond.

However, Councillor Nester Pidwerbecki questioned how big an impact the cost would actually have on the city in years to come.

As employees in high-ranking positions leave the city, Pidwerbecki said it would be better to have educated employees available within to fill those spots, rather than taking the search to a costly headhunter.

“We can’t just dismiss this as a $10,000 item. It’s much bigger than that,” Pidwerbecki said. “If we have people who are trained, or being trained…that can fill those jobs, dollar wise, tax wise, who is further ahead?

“It will be the most tax-saving in the long run,” he added.

Long says the average cost to hire an outside agency to recruit individuals for top city positions is approximately $35,000 each, depending on the job and other factors.

Most recently, the city spent approximately $55,000 on an outside agency to hire a new city manager prior to appointing from within, slotting Jag Sharma, the former commissioner of community services, into the position.

Long also pointed out that an outside agency was retained at a cost of $30,000 to find recruits for both the director of planning and director of economic development positions.

Council eventually voted to remove the fees, with councillors McQuaid-England and Pidwerbecki voting against it.

Mayor Henry said he wanted to ensure the public knew the city wasn’t facing a “crisis.”

“It’s not a crisis because the work is being done by staff,” he said. “I don’t want the public to think the work isn’t being done…We have challenges, but it’s not a crisis.”

Budget deliberations are set to continue on Friday, Jan. 29 with final approval a possibility on that date.