Local builders have sounded the alarm over the apparent collapse of Norfolk’s planning division.
The department recently dwindled to two planners in total, with one of them – principal planner Mat Vaughan – preparing to take over the planning division in Brant County at the end of the month.
On behalf of the Haldimand-Norfolk Homebuilders Association, Rikki-Lee Bunting expressed concern on March 10 that an already-lengthy development application process is about to get even longer.
“Norfolk County’s employment reputation has been damaged by the lack of job stability and management,” Bunting told Norfolk council. “Norfolk County needs more experienced professional employees, and I’ve been informed that – with Norfolk’s damaged reputation – experienced professionals are not applying to current job postings, which is a major concern.
“Remarkably, Norfolk County’s last active senior planner (Vaughan) has taken a higher position with a neighbouring municipality, all the while planning to continue living in Norfolk County.
“How can Norfolk afford to let our last highly-qualified planner walk out the door while you are desperately looking to fill planning positions?” Bunting asked. “Why are we not matching these job offers to keep experienced professionals within our own municipality?”
County solicitor Paula Boutis is Norfolk’s interim general manager of development and cultural services. Boutis said her No. 1 priority is re-staffing the county’s depleted planning division.
“It’s been my primary focus since I’ve stepped into this role,” she said.
One planner remains committed to the department while a former senior planner in Norfolk – Tricia Givens – has agreed to a temporary posting as manager of planning while the county takes on strength.
Givens was a principal planner before accepting a managerial role in the housing division of Haldimand and Norfolk health and social services.
Norfolk recently hired two entry-level planners. They will join the municipality before the end of March.
Meanwhile, Boutis is preparing to interview for two senior planning positions. She told council she has a good selection of resumes to choose from. There are also plans to hire a summer student.
Another two Norfolk planners are on maternity leave.
The homebuilders association raised concerns with Norfolk council in 2017 after a more rigorous vetting process was brought to bear on development applications. This increased the average approval time per application to about four months.
Bunting reiterated that complaint at the March 10 meeting. Boutis countered that – under the current regulatory framework – four months is typical while the wait is longer for complicated applications that encounter neighbourhood resistance.
The new Norfolk council has shed nearly all the senior managers it inherited after it was sworn in 16 months ago.
Interim managers were appointed while council undertook the process of recruiting a new, full-time CAO. The expectation is that – once the new CAO is in place — the successful candidate will appoint a new management team to their specifications.
Consultant Jason Burgess, Norfolk’s interim general manager of corporate services, was introduced last month as the county’s incoming CAO. Burgess is expected to assume his duties at the end of March once he wraps up business related to his consultancy in St. Catharines.
“We feel the immediate needs for the future are that council create employment stability by hiring long-term management staff and look to rebuild Norfolk County’s employment reputation for the future,” Bunting said.
“We urge you to continue looking for experienced planning professionals that can fulfill the needs of the planning department to restore the previous application time-lines as soon as possible.”
In her presentation, Bunting estimated the annual, all-in value of construction in Norfolk in the range of $200 million.
“We are very concerned for the economic future of Norfolk County’s construction industry,” she said.