NORTH HURON – Director of Recreation and Community Services Vicky Luttenberger spoke at length to North Huron councillors regarding the staffing shortage at both the North Huron Wescast Community Complex and the Blyth Community Centre, saying if they didn’t make some changes, the options would be limited for keeping both centres open.
The issue was discussed at a special meeting in August and council approved a recruitment process to hire staff to fill existing part-time recreation facility operator positions for both community centres.
Staff also advertised for a full-time seasonal recreation facility operator position. The thought was that the full-time, seasonal job could be shared between both facilities.
In addition to the part-time operator and full-time, seasonal positions, staff also advertised for a part-time arena attendant positions (students).
Luttenberger told council that the recruitment attempt failed with only eight part-time position applicants and one for the full-time job, none of whom held the proper qualifications.
The recreation facility operator position is not an entry-level position, Luttenberger explained.
“These positions are responsible for the operations and maintenance of the entire facility. They are required to perform hourly system checks and complete logs on the refrigeration system, and the pool mechanical system,” she said. “They are also responsible for flooding the ice, adding chemicals to the pool and balancing the PH level in the aquatic system. They are also responsible for other areas including the campground, sports fields, courts, playgrounds, park amenities, etc.”
Luttenburger added, “A recreation facility operator is also responsible for supervising the facility use on weeknights and weekends when the facility manager is not in the building.”
Applicants must be certified in multiple areas, including operation of the refrigeration plant, safe operation and maintenance of an ice resurfacing unit and have completed other training related to facility maintenance.
Additionally, if they work in Wingham, they are required to be a certified pool operator.
A qualified recreation facility operator must be in the building at all times.
Luttenberger also spoke at length regarding the new legislation regarding proof of vaccination for COVID-19, saying that would put additional strain on the already overworked staff currently working at the centres.
Paired with the additional cleaning measures, having to do a deep clean between groups, and additional cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces, like washrooms, the director pointed out that there just wasn’t enough staffing to continue like this.
The topic of worker safety was also brought up with the new rules regarding vaccines and staff having to request proof from clients. Luttenberger mentioned her concern for them, as did Deputy Reeve Trevor Seip, who voiced his opinion of people being aggressive towards staff members who are only doing their job.
“We don’t make the rules,” Seip said, adding that his personal phone number can be given to any person who is complaining about this, and he will explain it to them.
In the end, the council voted unanimously for the motions on the floor to hire a new full-time Recreation Facilities Operator II at the North Huron Wescast Community Complex and transition a part-time Recreation Facilities Operator II position to a full-time position.
It is estimated that the combined total increase will be approximately $63,500 excluding benefits, Luttenberger’s report said. However, these additional costs could be offset by reallocating part-time hours/wages to full-time wages, changes to pre-season ice, savings achieved through restructuring the department, and a minimal increase in user fees. Additional information will be bought forward during the budget process.
If a qualified candidate is not found, the township will need to consider the following:
operating only one arena for the 2021-22 season; or,
reducing the hours of operation at one or both facilities until the staffing shortage issue can be resolved.
Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times