Sudbury's emergency and fire services departments are looking to add six full-time staff next year, to improve firefighter training capacity and extend paramedic services on the weekend.
The added staff would increase the department's $152 million budget by close to $490,000. That includes $24.7 million for fire, $22.5 million for emergency services, $44.7 million for social services, $34.4 million for long-term care, $24.7 million for housing and another $1 million for the general manager's office.
While the total budget is $152 million, grants from the province and other revenue totals about $85.4 million, leaving $66.8 million to be raised through taxes.
Overall, costs for the departments are going up by 1.5 per cent, which translates to 0.44 per cent of the total property tax increase.
The new positions include two paramedics, in a department that has seen a significant growth in the number of calls for service, totalling 33,000 last year. A big part of the increase in calls is attributed to the growing seniors population.
On the fire side, the two new trainers would allow more firefighter training at the Azilda facility, where local and out-of-town fire departments come to learn the craft. More training would mean more revenue.
But some city councillors wanted to hold off on adding the trainers on a permanent basis, until an ongoing comprehensive review of fire services is complete.
“Then we will know whether we actually need (the positions),” said Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh.
Councillors agreed to make that a budget option. The remaining two full-time positions are a vehicle technician and an assistant deputy chief position.
Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini asked about overtime costs in the fire department, and was told it would total around $800,000 this year.
“Before we went to the 24-hour shifts, what did OT hours look like?” Vagnini asked, a reference to Sudbury firefighters who work 24-hour shifts in exchange for working about 86 days a year.
Trevor Bain, the executive deputy chief for fire and paramedic services, said overtime costs in the department fluctuate up and down from year-to-year.
“Every second year we're up, every second year we're down,” Bain said. “There's a variety of reasons.”
In 2015, he said the department delayed hiring replacement firefighters in June as part of the P6M process. That was the staff effort to find $6 million to pay for the 2015 property tax freeze.
“I wasn't able to fill the eight full-time positions until the latter part of November,” Bain said, leading to the spike in overtime costs.
Vagnini asked what was being done to address overtime costs in the department. Bain said they have an attendance management program in place, which flags workers who are missing a lot of time and works with them to improve their attendance.
“We are actively pursuing any anomalies,” Bain said.
In total, Greater Sudbury has 128 full-time firefighters, as well as 324 volunteer firefighters. Areas of the city covered by full-time firefighters have higher property tax rates than areas serviced by volunteers, a system known as area rating.
A final decision on whether to add the six new staff is expected to be made next Wednesday, when councillors are expected to make final decisions on the 2016 budget.