Maple Ridge council approves hiring planners

Four new positions in municipal hall will cost $400,000 a year

Maple Ridge council is moving ahead with a plan to boost the number of its planning staff from 11 to 15.

And although building permit reserve funds will pay half of the extra salaries for the first two years, it will be up to the new council elected Nov. 15 to decide what combination of development or other fee increases will pay for the extra payroll beyond that time period.

Total cost of hiring a planner, planning technician, plan checker and subdivision technologist works out to $400,000 for the first two years.

But re-classifying existing positions along with current funding will pay for half that cost.

Mayor Ernie Daykin said the extra payroll can be funded without raising taxes, it’s just a matter of how the new council wants to allot development fee increases to pay for them.

“We do know how we’re going to pay for them,” he said later.

A measure to gauge whether the extra staff are helping reduce wait times for applications was also included. That will require staff to respond to development application within 30 days, 80 per cent of the time.

“It’s deciding a level of service that we want to provide,” Daykin added.

Couns. Mike Morden and Corisa Bell opposed the hiring on Tuesday,

Morden said there were still pieces missing in the plan to expand the payroll.

Bell wanted a more definite plan that set out the exact numbers.

“It makes no sense to me why we’re hiring staff and then creating a financial plan of how to pay for it. I’ve never heard of that before.”

She added it was inappropriate to make such a decision before an election.

“I just feel that we, as a council, have been out to lunch when it comes to the magnitude of business that will not come here any more because of our processes.”

Maple Ridge has only five people in its planning department – compared to eight in Coquitlam and 19 in Surrey.

Planning staff are managing 51 applications per employee, compared to 11 files per employee in Langley township and 23 in Coquitlam.

Maple Ridge currently has 256 active files, while Pitt Meadows has 27.

According to the National Association for Industrial and Office Parks, Maple Ridge’s combined fees for rezoning, subdivision and building permits are 22 per cent below average. But that is based on tracking only one application.

A 2013 NAIOP report also finds Maple Ridge to have some of the longest processing times – 240 days for approval of a project.

Only Vancouver and New Westminster, at 270 days, and Port Coquitlam at 510 days, have longer waiting periods for project approval.

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