By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
The calls have increased, the number of bylaws to be enforced have grown, and there are new special assignments to be juggled, but according to recently released numbers, the city’s municipal law enforcement team is keeping up.
The feat is made more impressive by the fact that the Municipal Law Enforcement and Licensing Services (MLELS) department has not hired any new officers since 2006. In that time the city has grown by approximately 15 per cent, and the number of bylaws falling under the departments purview have jumped to 35, ranging in everything from parking to waste to apartment licensing.
According to the MLELS annual report for 2017, the calls for service ballooned by 37 per cent, jumping to 15,500, well above the annual average of around 11,300.
Despite that increase, the department was able to maintain the majority of their set service levels for timing and resolution of calls.
“We’re meeting our service level targets and things like that right now, and special assignments that are being referred to us for investigation are being accommodated,” says Jerry Conlin, the director of MLELS. “There’s always things to keep us busy, but we seem to be able to manage it at this point in time.”
The staffing levels inside the MLELS department have been a contentious topic during the previous two budget years with members of council questioning whether the department is able to keep up with the workload and do their job effectively in an already spread thin Corporate Services department. Over the last year, council has added an additional item for MLELS to enforce, that being the new licensing regime for designated driving services, and as the city continues to grow, staffing levels are consistently a topic of conversation.
For Conlin, new bylaws don’t always translate into more work for his team, depending on what the bylaw is related to.
“The fact that council may give us new bylaws, always raises that question do you need more staff? But giving us new bylaws doesn’t always mean you’re going to get a lot of complaints as a result of that bylaw,” he says.
With that said, while the majority of service levels were met, with 92 per cent of calls being completed in set time frames, the department did show a few minor slippages in some areas.
First, the 92 per cent figure represents a one per cent drop over last year’s accomplishments and in specific areas, the MLELS department saw a one per cent drop in meeting their targets in cases related to animal enforcement (91 per cent to 90 per cent), and more significantly, they saw a much larger drop in the meeting of refuse enforcement targets.
In 2016, the department dealt with 230 cases, and in 92 per cent of those cases they were able to meet the service level targets of two business days for an initial response and five business days for complete resolution. However, when that number more than doubled to 516 cases in 2017, the ability to meet those service targets dropped to 80 per cent.
“I think the minor difference in the percentage points there are just indicative of the increased volume of it,” Conlin says. “Refuse is pretty much something that the community focuses on because it’s community image, and we’re looking to improve that in 2018.”
For Councillor Rick Kerr, the chair of council’s Corporate Services committee, he believes the staff of MLELS continue to do a great job year after year in managing the workload with the staff that they have.
“I think Jerry (Conlin) has done an exemplary job working with staff to improve facilities of delivery,” he says. “If you’re going to provide a service to the community you want to provide the best service that you can and you also want to be mindful of what it costs to do that so that you’re sort of trying to obey two masters there.”
With that said, he recognizes that eventually the purse strings will need to be loosened.
“The envelope is beginning to feel some pressure on it in a number of areas, but different times of the year require different levels of service and right now, as I understand it, we’re able to accommodate the workload we have.”
Last year, that workload also included the high profile approval of a trio of proactive apartment inspections, a small compromise from councillors after quashing the idea to expand the Residential Rental Housing Licensing System (RRHL), a system that requires landlords to keep their properties up to a certain standard.
It’s a project that has also been renewed for a pair of similar efforts in 2018.
“That one worked very well, we ere able to accommodate that into our schedule and this year we have two sessions that we’re planning, probably late spring and probably mid-fall to audit multi-unit buildings,” Conlin explains.
At the moment, the locations of those audits have yet to be determined, but Conlin says the selection process will be based off priority areas and taking into account criteria like calls for service and previous inspection dates.
As it stands now, the MLELS department has 23 bylaw officers. For now, Conlin believes that’s enough, and before decisions are made about bringing on new staff, the city must look internally at their own operations, he says.
“I think we’re always looking at how we can take the existing resources and how we can create effecincies with some of the things we’re doing and I think that’s the first thing you want to do before you jump into resources right away,” he says. “You want to take the resources you have and say, ‘have we got this fine-tuned enough to address the calls for service we’re getting in?’”