Red Deer city council approved 21 new full-time equivalent positions to work in Transit, RCMP, Public Works and Parks with the passing of the 2014 municipal operating budget last week.
This brings the tally to about 1,351 staffers in 2014, compared to 1,330 in 2013.
Factoring in the extra staff for ice and snow control, the total may increase by another five to 10 employees.
The actual number on the city’s payroll is 1,400. That includes staff who may work a few hours of part-time or half-time.
City manager Craig Curtis said the number of staff employed at the city is in line with comparable-sized cities that are growing. But he said the number of staff in any municipality depends on the services provided in the community and the projects that are contracted out.
The City of Lethbridge, for example, has 1,376 full-time equivalent employees.
“We probably have a larger park system than more comparable cities,” said Curtis. “That makes Community Services a pretty large area but the community believes that is one of our major assets.”
Curtis said the hiring of contractors relates to how the city operates. The city hires 95 per cent of its contractors for construction projects and roads. Curtis said Red Deer has one of the fewest number of engineers on staff compared to similar-sized municipalities.
The city has engineers in four departments, as well as four managers who are engineers. The Engineering Department has 10 engineers dealing with things like traffic, design and development. The other departments with engineers are Public Works (two), Environmental Services (four) and Electric Light and Power (six).
“(Consultants) are subject matter experts that actually save us money,” said Curtis.
The consultants contracted to the city currently are working on large projects such as road repair and design, the North Highway Connector ring road, the expansion of the wastewater treatment plant and the water treatment plant.
“That probably makes up 80 to 90 per cent of our contracting dollars,” said Curtis. “The other studies you hear about, $5,000 here, $20,000 here, are largely irrelevant in terms of the total consultant dollars that we expend.”
He did not have available the total amount spent on consultants.
During 2014 budget talks, Coun. Tanya Handley raised concerns over the hiring of consultants and the number of staff already on the payroll.
Staffing accounts for 40 per cent or $122 million on a $305-million operational budget.
Curtis said this comes up often because there is a misunderstanding about the work that consultants do at the city. Curtis said Red Deer is no different than any other municipality in any province.
“We are understaffed in some areas and use consultants to perform that specialized task,” said Curtis. “If you need somebody to do a transportation study on flow of transportation on an arterial road and the design on an intersection, you hire a specialized engineering firm that does that.”
As well, Curtis said Red Deer is a growing city that may need more staff compared to similar-sized municipalities that are not dealing with the challenges of growth.
“Growth is huge in this city,” said Curtis. “Somebody has to design that infrastructure and it certainly isn’t our internal staff.”
Recreation, Parks and Culture is the largest city department with 263 staffers, followed by the RCMP with 221 and Emergency Services with 192 employees. The city’s Communications Department has seven full-time equivalents on the payroll.