There was stiff resistance from councillors, but their eventual agreement to hire more bylaw enforcement and legal staff is paying off handsomely. Revenues from fines climbed nearly half a million in the first four months of this year – more than enough to offset the cost of the new positions for the full year.
Actual revenues from Provincial Offences Administration (POA) has jumped 23% in the first three months of this year compared to the same period in 2011 generating $495,333 for city coffers. And the numbers are continuing to increase according to a report last week received by councillors. Total charges climbed by over 2300 in the same period, primarily as a result of Highway Traffic Act tickets issued by police.
POA revenues also include fines collected through enforcement of city bylaws which climbed 26% last year to 1545 charges. They are up more this year despite the mild winter that “all but eliminated municipal snow–related charges” issued by municipal officers. The report anticipates that total charges by all agencies will exceed 100,000 this year and could bring in an extra $2 million in fines.
Charges per year climbed by 25,000 in the 2008 to 2010 period, but without any additional staff to deal with fine payments or prosecution. Consequently staff approached council last June for approval to add eight positions – including prosecutors, bylaw officers, and administrative support staff.
The city administers a variety of provincial offences and Hamilton police had made clear they expected an annual 15% increase in charges laid by their officers in the 2010–12 period. The normal court success rate for the city exceeds 90% but staff warned that cases would be dismissed if the city took too much time to carry out the prosecutions.
At last June’s meeting, the city solicitor told councillors it was already taking nine months to get charges to court and he feared any longer delays would lead to a situation where people getting tickets would take them to court knowing they would get off because of the delays.
However, the general issues committee balked at the request for more staff – especially outside the annual city budget process just completed the month earlier – and voted 7–3 for a motion by Tom Jackson to put off a decision until the next annual budget. That got slightly modified by the full council which extended an invitation to staff to come back to councillors with alternatives such as a pilot program or a phased–in hiring process.
In response, a slightly changed plan was presented to councillors in September to hire four people immediately, two at the end of the year, and then to consider approving two more positions during the 2012 budget deliberations. This delayed compromise was approved by a 15–1 vote with only Lloyd Ferguson opposed.
Like Jackson, the Ancaster councillor’s objections focused on the timing of the request, as well as “going down the slippery slope where every meeting we go to again there’s going to be more FTEs (full–time equivalent positions) added” – something he argued was the norm before he came on council. He suggested staff would seize on the September decision to try to expand their ranks.
“If I was Gerry Davis [general manager of public works] and I was sitting there, I’d say ah hah, these guys are an easier pushover in August than they are in February when we’re doing the budget,” Ferguson declared.
Jackson also said he was “torn” about the decision, but ended up supporting it after an amendment was adopted to require staff to provide the update on the financial impacts that came in last week. V