Pitt Meadows council split on hiring environmental officer

Three members wanted to wait until budget discussions

Pitt Meadows will hire a new full-time environmental stewardship officer as soon as the new year, despite arguments from three councillors that the new position should be considered as part of the annual budget.

The issue was thoroughly debated on Tuesday at a council in committee meeting, with Coun. Bill Dingwall among those saying council is being inconsistent in setting its spending priorities.

He noted that even the request for a $6,000 expenditure for youth justice was recently put off until the budget process.

Council should “look at all of our pressures and priorities,” he said. “What we need to do, and what we can do.”

Coun. Tracy Miyashita echoed that the new hire should be part of the 2016 budget planning process, during which council looks at all of the city’s needs and priorities.

Coun. Janis Elkerton also said the new job should be considered “in the context of the needs of the entire organization.”

“This is too fast,” she said. “We’re not balancing it out with all the other needs.”

All three councillors said they are not necessarily opposed to the new hire, only the process.

The new council’s first budget fulfilled an election promise to bring in a zero tax increase for the present budget year, and that was accomplished after a line-by-line examination of the budget, and cutting spending for economic development.

The new hire will not impact the present budget.

The job will carry a base salary of $70,000 per year, with another $17,000 in benefits. There will also be an ongoing cost of $8,000 per year for a city vehicle.

Mayor John Becker said his concern for the environment decides the issue for him.

“I’ll let my passion override my fiscal conservatism,” he said.

“I have a difficult time imagining anything more important than the air we breath, the water we drink and the land on which we live.”

He said the city should take a leadership position on environmentalism, and pick up the slack left by the province’s lack of enforcement. Making it subject to budget considerations could delay the hire until the middle of 2016, he said.

“I want to get this up and running.”

CAO Kim Grout noted that the position would offer expertise not currently at city hall, and staff who currently try to do this type of work would be freed up to do other tasks.

The officer’s responsibilities will be based on similar positions in other cities.

Some councillors suggested a part-time officer, but Grout responded that would impact the quality of candidate the city would be able to attract to the new job.

The new position will promote environmental stewardship, dealing with issues such as illegal dumping, invasive species, the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, wildlife interactions, waste diversion and city energy use.

Coun. Bruce Bell, who chaired the meeting, heard the debate and sided with the mayor and councillors David Murray and Mike Stark.

“It’s about sawing the baby in half here,” he said, and noted that staff could still cancel the position “if this ends up being a mistake.”