Public Works Seeks 11 Permanent Hires

Cast iron water main pipe replaced in 2018 lies adjacent the work area

Cast iron water main pipe replaced in 2018 lies adjacent the work area

Ever increasing repairs, a growing backlog of work, staff absences and the need to get preventative maintenance done has the water and wastewater utility requesting the creation of 11 permanent staff positions.

Recommendation Cost - $475,000

At a cost of $475,000 annually the initiative, if approved, would allow full staffing of the two City repair crews during absences, allow the City to operate a second hydrovac unit as well as allow preventative maintenance to be performed on the Waterworks Utility, Darrin Stephanson Public Works Manager told last Wednesday evening’s Budget Committee.

In a report the hiring was justified because at present existing personnel have maximized what they are able to perform. Over a five year span the number of excavations has increased by 70 percent while the per excavation cost has been reduced by 48 percent with existing personnel, the report stated. 

The report went on to state “the existing workload in the department has outstripped the resources currently available within the department.”

Although there has been new infrastructure installed there is yet to be a reduction in the number of repairs required.

“The repair trend will peak and reduce in a five year time frame,” Stephanson told Budget Committee.

The increasing repair trend has meant not only a repair backlog but there is also not enough time to perform much needed preventative maintenance. 

“It (preventive maintenance) is a critical function in our new and existing infrastructure,” Stephanson said.

Part of the need to hire additional permanent employees is to ensure the Departments two crews are fully staffed during planned and unplanned absences, he said.

Statistics show on average the two repair crews are missing 2.9 personnel from their full strength on a daily basis. Adding the new personnel would ensure the crews each had a full seven staff member contingent. The crew size is determined by safety standards and regulations. 

Part of the proposed permanent hirings are “three permanent skilled labour positions to backfill for these absences,” he said.

Additionally, if approved, then 11 permanent new staff would also include two operators for a second City owned hydrovac unit. A second hydrovac will allow the City to provide in-house service when required.

If approved the recommendation would see 11 permanent staff hired.
Six temporary staff would become permanent staff and five new permanent staff would be hired.

Stephanson said presently a private hydrovac operator is contracted to the City at annual cost of approximately $250,000 - $300,000. 

Asked by Councillor Scott McMann how many staff the $475,000 recommendation would hire Stephanson replied it would move six temporary staff to permanent positions and add five additional permanent positions.

Stephason also answered Councillor McMann’s question as to what the backlogs were replying “hydrants, sewer lines, water lines, inoperable valves, collapsed sanitary and storm sewers.”

Preventative maintenance getting done in a timely fashion was a key benefit if the hiring was approved, Stephanson said going on how to explain some valves had not been worked for 20 years.

“We hope they work when we get to them but when we get to them they fail,” he said.

“Because we are consumed by the number of repairs we are not getting to them (valves) so when we use them they break.”

Working a valve is the process of turning the valve slowly back and forth more open and then closed in order to loosen any debris and when completed the valve should easily open and close. 

The report also pointed to cost savings of having the City do repairs versus private contractors. Utilizing private contractors to help out costs $4,000 to $10,000 more than a City employed crew according to the report. 

Simply continuing the status quo was not preferred and would cost more at a later time, he said.

“The alternative (of doing nothing) puts us in a high risk situation,” Stephanson said. 

“The work is outstripping what we can perform…we need to do something,” he said. 

“We would end up funding it at a higher rate…one of the highest cost benefits is it allows us to get preventative maintenance done.” 

The report stated “preventative maintenance is a critical function in preserving and extending the useful life of existing and new infrastructure.”

Three options were provided with hiring 11 new permanent staff recommended. 

There is the aforementioned $475,000 hiring of 11 permanent employees which would also include a $100,000 reduction in the status quo budget. This is the preferred option because it would not only increase the repair rate but also allow preventive maintenance.

A second option would hire additional temporary staff and cost $527,000.

A third option would be to contract the work out at a cost of $690,000.

There was no cost estimate of how much a second hydrovac unit would cost. 

The initiative must first be approved by Budget Committee during their deliberations and then finally approved at a Council meeting. 

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