Montrose residents question student hiring practices

“I’ve been in the village for 31 years and this is the first time that we’ve hired someone from outside the area."

A group of Montrose residents schooled in the village’s summer student hiring practices approached council last week to question why an out-of-area and not a local student landed the job this year.

Traditionally, the village hires one of its own for an entry level summer position with duties that include lawn care, park maintenance, painting and general sanitation.

Although Montrose doesn’t currently have a policy for summer student hiring, a condition for employment is the student must be a bona fide high school graduate or attending college or university with declared intention of returning to school following summer vacation.

Usually taxpayer dollars and small community grants cover the student’s paycheque.

This year, Montrose’s chief administrative officer (CAO) applied for and received a federal grant to cover about one third of the wage with the caveat that the student must be in the field of engineering.

From a pool of 15 applicants, an engineering student from the Okanagan was awarded the position described as 50 per cent traditional and 50 per cent special projects.

“I’ve been in the village for 31 years and this is the first time that we’ve hired someone from outside the area,” said Gerald Parker, a former Montrose councillor and delegation presenter. “That is what has everyone shook.”

In 1997 Montrose council stepped back from the summer student hiring process because the issue then was favouritism, explained Parker.

“It was about who you did or didn’t know,” he said. “But because of past policies and practises we just assumed the student would be from Montrose.”

Additionally, the summer position was widely advertised both locally and at four universities but Montrose council wasn’t aware of the grant, the extent of advertising, or the student hired, according to Parker.

“The CAO and works foreman have the right to hire who they choose,” Parker continued. “And he did tell council that he wanted to hire a student who could do some engineering and mow the lawn.

“But a bit more openness in the hiring is what I’d like to see.”

To rectify the issue, Montrose council passed a resolution to post an entry level summer student position that will only be awarded to a student from the village.

“We don’t want to limit the village in who they can or can’t hire,” explained Parker. “But what I think has people upset is that past practices have been thrown on their head,” he said. “When you don’t hire from Montrose, people get riled.”

The hiring process was very fair with a detailed evaluation matrix, noted Montrose CAO Kevin Chartres, adding that the applicant pool has been decreasing the last few years.

“We shortlisted five people who scored the highest in the evaluation,” said Chartres. “All applicants had some direct or relative experience for the position. It turned out one (from Fruitvale) was ineligible due to unavailability at start of the position and another (from Castlegar) had found a job.”

The third-year engineering student has additional duties that include compiling waste water infrastructure data, interpreting subdivision plans for survey data and managing electronic imaging of hard copy drawings.

“Staff considers this hiring to be cost effective and extremely beneficial to our long term planning,” he said. “We are essentially employing an engineer-in-training for $11 per hour and are fortunate the student committed himself to Montrose for the summer.”

East in Fruitvale, there is no policy for summer hiring nor has the village specifically employed a student for a number of years due to lack of federal funding, said Lila Cresswell, Fruitvale’s CAO.

“We do hire a summer temporary employee but require that they have significant qualifications which are usually beyond student capabilities,” she explained. “If a student applied with the qualifications, of course we would consider them along with the other applicants.”

Both Trail and Warfield have a policy in place for hiring summer students with both municipalities leaving council out of the decision and the responsibility for hiring solely in the hands of city and village staff.

The number of students hired in the City of Trail is dependent on the year’s budget, however candidates are selected on the basis of education, knowledge, ability and suitability and all things being equal, residency is considered, explained Michelle McIsaac, Trail’s corporate administrator.

Warfield staff hires students to undertake park and playground maintenance duties as the annual budget permits, with a criteria that the student (or parents) reside in Warfield and is registered to attend college or university in the fall.

Further up the hill, the City of Rossland hires two to three students each year in public works, although there is no policy in place.

“We’ve been fortunate to receive CBT (Columbia Basin Trust) grants for special student projects such as the Water Ambassador Program,” said Tracey Butler, Rossland’s deputy CAO.

Every year the city applies for federal grants but the funding is getting harder and harder to get and this year Rossland will not receive student funding under the human resource development program, she added.

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