BEYOND THE HEADLINES: No Grinches here

Columnist provides some thoughts on municipalities and scheduling for holidays

It’s easy to take shots at politicians because they can provide easy fodder.

But there are those times when elected officials make tough decisions and represent the broad interest of their constituents.

Case in point is Coldstream council revisiting the Christmas schedule for staff.

Municipal operations are supposed to be shut down from Dec. 22 to Jan. 2, and that  means if the public works crew has to come in to plow snow, they will be paid double time.

“That’s 13 days, in the middle of winter, and if there’s a snow storm, we’d have to pay overtime,” said Coun. Maria Besso.

If the public works department remained open for those four days, excluding weekends and statutory holidays, they would only be paid double time for any work performed outside of their regular hours.

Now one may wonder why the outside workers are specifically being targeted by council when those inside the municipal office could still get extra days off?

And that’s a fair question as there is still planning to do, bylaws to enforce and the clock is ticking to prepare a budget for 2013.

The likely explanation is no one will be too upset if utility bills are a few days late, but snow-covered roads undermine public safety.

Obviously there’s no guarantee of a blizzard rolling in Dec. 27 or 28, but keeping the public works department open wouldn’t be a waste of time as there are other projects they can pursue or maintenance to catch up on.

A quick check with the City of Vernon indicates that its operations department never closes between Christmas and New Year’s. Vernon city hall has generally shut down in the past but that won’t be happening this year. The people’s business will be done.

The bottom line is Coldstream council members have a direct responsibility to residents to oversee their hard-earned dollars wisely.

When double time has to be paid out, that negatively impacts the municipal budget and that places further financial pressure on residents to fund those operations.

There will be those who accuse Besso and the rest of council of being the Grinch who stole Christmas. After all, who doesn’t want to spend a few extra days with family and friends?

The time off also acknowledges staff’s dedication throughout the year, and my personal experience with Coldstream’s works crew has been professional and positive through rising flood water and snow storms.

But there’s a reality everyone within the public service — no matter the level of government — should be keenly aware of.

Most taxpayers don’t have the ability to take the entire holiday season off. In between the mistletoe and the sugar cookies, there’s still a job to do.

Broaching a difficult issue may find Coldstream council being scratched off  some staff Christmas card lists, but they may get an extra cup of cheer from residents.