Hamilton, Ontario

Board of Health:

Jan 24, 2011

Community garden coordinator discussion

January 24 2011 Board of Health

5.1       Community Garden Coordinator Position (BOH11001) (City Wide)

Bratina: Are there any consent items that you wish to move forward for discussion? Councillor McHattie.

McHattie: Yes, Mr Mayor. Just on 5.1. This is a community garden coordinator position, and the Board of Health will remember that we passed a community garden policy last year. And one of the discussion points was that it would be useful to have an actual person working around the city to assist people in setting up community gardens. We’re providing hard infrastructure, water and advice from staff, and all that stuff, but some people to actually go out there and help people to set up new gardens. And in fact Green Venture and others have been successful in receiving some grants – so it’s not costing us any money as a city, but we’re benefitting from having this person in place to assist in creating local food situations across the city. So I met the young woman last week – who’s name is going to escape me – maybe staff have that for us. But she’s great, and she’s already working with groups in the east end, north end and elsewhere to establish new community gardens. So hats off to public health staff for their role in this, and of course to the community groups who have been successful with the grant.

Bratina: Thank you councillor. It might be interesting to consider that in view of the changing nature of the economy and climate, that residents in general, as well as in the community garden scenario, may well be taking measures on their own, in their own backyard, and so on. And there could be best practices and things that we could be helpful with. So we’ll see how that goes, and thanks very much. Councillor, yes, councillor Clark.

Clark: I’m fine with the program. I’m just curious. Is this going to show up as an FTE on our documents? Yes, no?

Staff: Through you Mr Mayor, no, this won’t be an FTE. It won’t be a public health staff person. They will not be a city employee, so it won’t show up as a new FTE.

Clark: Okay. And as we go forward in this, because I’m being told that the counts that we’re seeing is very high in FTEs, not just in public health, are not necessarily FTEs but that they’re outside agency people that are working for them that are funded. So we need to be very clear, especially in this budget year where we’re going to need a very fine tooth comb, what FTEs are inside the organization, outside the organization, who’s funding what, so that we don’t cause confusion with the public. So this one here, there’s no cost to the taxpayer, and it’s an outside agency that has that person under their employ? I need a verbal, please.

Staff: Correct.

Clark: Thank you. [3:44]

Bratina: Thank you. So members of the Board of Health, may I have a motion? Councillor Whitehead.

Whitehead: Can I just ask a subsequent question to that is – it’s great to see that there’s no financial commitment. The other concern obviously, and we’ve seen this more times than not, is that when there’s a recognition that there’s some benefit to this program – and obviously we agree there’s some benefit or we wouldn’t be funded in the first place. But ongoing, what if this pilot works out? Who will pick up the tab moving into the future?

Elizabeth Richardson: Through you Mr Mayor, we don’t have a plan going forward at this point. We’ll be working through and seeing how we do on progress on the issues and we’ll continue to review what’s going on and we’ll bring back a report later in this year, if that helps, on what might happen in the future.

Whitehead: Okay, and I guess the higher level issue for me is when we go out and start engaging in I guess good programs – I’m not suggesting they’re not, by any stretch of the imagination – but through these pilot programs there is, I would think, an inference that if it proves out then we’re going to fund it moving forward. So it’s like setting – it’s sort of like drawing the line in the sand and saying okay this is a program that needs to be supported. We’ll go through a grant program and establish the program and now we’re just going to find the funding afterwards. My concern I guess is that we’re going to areas that are out beyond our mandate, core mandate, and we’re entering into areas where at the end of the day may cost the taxpayers of this community a greater amount of money. So I guess my caution, Mr Chair, is we need to think about strategically when we enter these kinds of programs, what is our long term range, what is our long term vision. If our long term vision is that we fund that position, then we should make that decision before we even venture into the process, as opposed to going through the pilot and then making the determination – and it’s locked in because we’ve created expectations. So that’s my concern moving forward.

Bratina: Deputy mayor Collins, can you take the chair for a moment? I’d like to comment on that. The whole purpose of pilot programs are to bring forward new ideas, and we would as a council have carriage of the future of that idea. So I think that’s the way the universe, typically, should unfold, is that things come forward; we don’t want to make a commitment until we see whether there’s value to it. And we could have a pilot program that is so wonderfully effective that it would be hard for us to resist as a council to turn it down. But on the other hand, it could be a flop, and then we would have carriage and that’s the way – I believe that’s why we’re here. So that’s my comment. I’ll take the chair back. And thank you. May I have a motion respecting items 5.1 to 5.3. Councillor Ferguson.

Ferguson: On that, you know I look at this and in theory it sounds wonderful. And just I’m a little bit with councillor Whitehead as to watch the cost. I know from personal experience. My daughter got into riding and she wanted … We had to buy her a horse, and buy her a trailer, and buy a truck to haul it, and build a barn. It was a hundred bucks every time you put her in a show and she was all excited when she won five bucks. I’m just worried this could be the same thing. I see this $65,000 for the staff person, plus the property, plus, plus, plus and to say grow $500 worth of vegetables. So I just want us to keep our eye on the ball on this thing to make sure it’s prudently spending taxpayers’ dollars, and not a whole bunch of money on a horse that doesn’t have great payback. And I understand people like to grow their own vegetables, that’s great, but when we start adding staff it starts a multiplier effect and in addition to the property, and the parks department’s got to go work it up with a rototillers and stuff. So I just want to make sure we always understand total cost, and understand the payback side as to whether or not we’re making the right investment. Then we can balance that against the whole theory of people having the opportunity to grow their own vegetables. Thank you.

Bratina: Thank you. Councillor McHattie.

McHattie: Mr Mayor, I apologize to the community garden network for raising this issue as a consent item. I guess it would have sailed right through without any comments, but I guess I wasn’t clear in my earlier comments. There’s zero funding from the city involved in this, zero expectation by the community garden network that the city would fund this. They took matters into their own hands, and saw the need, and did the fundraising themselves, and I fully anticipate they will continue to do that. The city doesn’t have to be involved with dollars in everything that’s going on out there. There’s some initiatives that go on quite well, in fact better sometimes, without us being involved. The report is here because it was part of the earlier community garden policy discussion and the suggestion was for a person to be identified, and that’s happened, but it’s happened on its own. It hasn’t involved the city. So this is a good news story, and I’m not sure why we’re trying to look for a city FTE on this. It’s simply not the case.

Bratina: Thank you. And thanks to everyone. I believe the message is clear from councillors that we have to be aware of sort of whether an issue sneaks in on us and before you know we’re hiring all sorts of FTEs. But that’s our job. So may I have a motion respecting item 5.1 to 5.3? Councillor Pearson, seconded by councillor Powers. All in favour? That is carried. [9:30]

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