Mission’s understaffed engineering and public works department will be changing the way it deals with public inquiries into traffic and transporation to catch up on a five-month backlog of work.
Inquiries will no longer be on a “first come, first serve” basis, and requests now have to be prioritized by importance, council voted on July 19.
The department has only one full-time position dealing with a wide-range of responsibilities, and the workload has increased significantly in regards to growth-related projects, such as development applications, street-use permits and public inquiries.
Staff’s report to council indicated that the current backlog will “further deteriorate” if additional staffing resources are not granted in the next budget cycle.
The department is not alone in voicing staffing concerns to council; Mission’s Parks Recreation and Culture Department finally secured funding in late 2020 for administration support after four years of requests.
In the last decade, Mission’s population has grown by over 15 per cent, and traffic volume has almost tripled on its busiest streets in the last 20 years.
This has led to an untenable workload, according to the report.
It says staff have seen a 300 per cent increase in the number of street-use permits made to the city since 2014, a task eating up 25 per cent of staff’s time; the number of development activities grew by 300 per cent from 2014 to 2020, accounting for 10 per cent of staff’s time.
The workload is expected to remain high over the next five to ten years due to continued development, the report says.
Staff are concerned about providing services with their limited resources, increasing demands and dwindling staff availability. They said efforts have been made to simplify internal processes, but further changes are necessary.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think that this prioritization process is going to significantly reduce the backlog,” said Allen Xu, manager of engineering planning and assets.
The staffing issue is not something new, but has been ongoing for several years, said Tracy Kyle, director of engineering and public works. She said staff turnover has been high.
“We’ve cycled through three or more staff, because we get to recruit someone and they realize what’s ahead of them, and they decide to go back to another job or look elsewhere,” Kyle said.
Information requests will now be screened and categorized into “simple inquiries” and “complex requests.”
Simple inquiries will now be responded to quickly if the information is readily available, rather than sitting in a long queue, according to the report. For example, if someone asks for an update on when a crosswalk will be completed, they will receive a timely response.
Complex inquiries that are urgent will also be prioritized, such as complaints – specifically with ICBC or RCMP documentation – regarding dangerous roadway designs, and how they may have been a major factor in an incident.
Inquiries are ranked in the following order of importance: Unacceptable and immediate risk to public safety; speeding issues; parking issues, and then all others.
Coun. Carol Hamilton recalled a comment made three years ago, relating to understaffing and Mission’s continued growth: “It’s coming, whether you’re ready or not.”
“And here it is, and we’re not ready in a lot of aspects, to be able to respond in a timely manner and throughout the organization,” she said. “Council needs to recognize the support that’s needed.”
Mayor Paul Horn said he recognized that understaffing stories are not uncommon across municipal departments.
“We can see that this is just the smallest thing we can do in the short term. .. But we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t start thinking about the longer term resourcing.”