The District of Mission’s parks, recreation and culture department has struggled for years with their workload, and COVID-19 has made the situation significantly harder, according to its director, Maureen Sinclair.
The department is the largest in terms of staffing in the district, but has “no dedicated admin support,” said Sinclair. On Dec. 2, staff recommended council to budget $92,000 for a new administrative assistant for next year (covering labour, overhead, supplies and equipment).
“I was asked at the last meeting about how we would manage if this position was not approved,” Sinclair said. “I said we’d muddle through, and really, that’s the best you can with the resources that you have.”
The department has been asking for more clerical support for over four years, and will be responsible for operating numerous new services to come in the new year, including a new seniors complex, a new bike park and a new youth centre.
“We’re way behind in terms of … getting consistent filing, we have leases and insurance policies, we have more than half a million people – under normal circumstances – that come though the door,” Sinclair said. “Now we have people coming through the door of the activity centre, people coming through the door at the Boswyk Centre – all the things that go with that continue to increase.”
Sinclair was asked to speak at the meeting by Coun. Carol Hamilton, who wanted the public to hear the challenges the department was having – especially though the pandemic.
Sinclair said the impact on her department “has been quite significant,” close to 100 staff have been laid off, including all their programming staff since their facilities closed in March. On top of that, she said many staff have been redeployed around the district, and their facility’s systems still need to be maintained in order to adhere to legal and safety requirements.
When requests for more administrative support have been made in previous years, they haven’t always made it to council, Sinclair said.
“It has been a fairly significant pent up demand,” she said. “When we can’t support youth, when we can’t support seniors, when we’re dealing with all the issues with respect to high school students … We’ve really put it off.”
Acting Mayor Cal Crawford said Sinclair is speaking to a organization-wide shortage of staffing, affecting more than just her department.
“How do you provide public service that’s exemplary so that you don’t receive complaints? Those complaints not only spill into her department, they spill into our department … and everyone else in the room.”
Council moved the budget forward to a first draft with a 4-2 vote, earmarking the funds for the new position out of municipal reserves.
Coun. Mark Davies’ vote broke a deadlock among councillors to move it forward to the first draft. He said he’d rather not create a new position during the pandemic, but after listening to Sinclair and hearing stories about burnout affecting staff at other municipal park departments, he’d support the hire.
“Some are just leaving their cities and or retiring altogether, because of the sheer volume of issues they’re have dealing with, in particular, the anti-masking crowd,” Davies said. “I worry about the viability of both Maureen and her staff.”