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Workload concerns could prompt call for more bylaw officers in Ottawa

Ottawa’s bylaw officers are busy.

That’s according to data presented this week to the city’s Emergency Preparedness and Protective Services Committee.

The Ottawa Bylaw and Regulatory Services (BLRS) annual report for 2023 showed 100,060 calls for service last year, which is up 7.6 per cent compared to 2022. It also showed that Ottawa’s bylaw officers respond to significantly more calls than bylaw officers in other cities do.

According to the data presented, there were 766 service requests per full-time equivalent (FTE) staff in Ottawa last year, compared to 405 service requests per FTE in Toronto, 493 in Hamilton and 576 in Windsor.

Committee chair Coun. Riley Brockington told Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa Now with Kristy Cameron that these figures aren’t perfectly comparable, but still demonstrate a heavy workload for bylaw employees in the capital.

“Not any one city has the same number of bylaws or the same types of things that their bylaw department is responsible for enforcing, so it’s hard to compare equally, but there’s no dispute, no debate that our bylaw department is very busy and they respond to many service requests from our residents,” he said.

BLRS is responsible for the enforcement and administration of more than 50 municipal by-laws, as well as provincial acts within the city and operates 144 hours per week. There are 222.29 budgeted full-time equivalents in the service, according to a report presented to committee on Thursday. That includes 43 full-time and 29 part-time parking enforcement staff, 68 full-time general bylaw enforcement staff, 16 full-time and seven part-time staff in operational support and regulatory services, and 22 full-time staff in licensing administration and enforcement.

Parking enforcement makes up a plurality of service requests. There were 41,034 calls for service related to parking in 2023, up nearly 15 per cent from 2022. The report notes, however, that parking complaints dropped significantly in 2020 following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2023 figure is still slightly below the pre-pandemic number of 42,485 calls for service reported in 2019.

Property standards complaints made up 17.29 per cent of calls last year, a figure that’s also on the rise year-over-year. There were 17,301 property standards calls in 2023, up from 15,551 in 2022. This figure has been steadily rising since 2017, according to the data.

Animal care and control calls represented 14.39 per cent of calls last year, approximately on par with 2022. There were 14,401 animal complains in 2023 and 14,241 the year prior.

Noise complaints made up 11.03 per cent of calls, and the data show noise complaints have been on the decline, with 11,039 in 2023 compared to a 6-year high of 12,339 in 2020.

These figures only represent calls for service, not necessarily tickets.

Brockington says that there has already been some suggestion that staff could be looking at hiring more bylaw officers in the next city budget.

“That is something that a number of my colleagues on the committee said, as we head into the 2025 budget, we might want to consider adding more FTEs to the bylaw portfolio, but you’ve got to be careful about that workload as well,” he said. “Even the chief of bylaw, Roger Chapman, said that he would like to see that (workload) reduced.”

Additionally, as calls mount, officers are taking longer to respond to some of them. Officers are only responding to lower priority calls, such as property maintenance complaints, within 96 hours around 74 per cent of the time, below the target of 80 per cent. Serious calls — such as dog attacks, dangerous conditions or noise complaints — are meeting that 80 per cent target for response times, data show even those figures are down from last year.

“We are concerned about that, but also the workload per officer,” he said. “The number of cases assigned per officer is quite high compared across the province.”

Brockington said he doesn’t how many more bylaw officers might be needed.

“Ultimately, that’s up to staff,” he said. “We’re not going to add a huge number of officers in 2025, if that is the decision that council makes. It’s usually gradual, where you add a small number over a period of time, but we have to weigh this against all other priorities that our city has.”

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