Bruce County declines Catalyst360 proposal

·4 min read

BRUCE COUNTY – CAO Derrick Thomson presented county council’s executive committee with a proposal regarding the Municipal Innovation Council’s (MIC) future.

Entitled Catalyst360: Transforming Municipalities Together, it described what MIC would look like should the county take the lead to support program delivery.

The motion to approve signing the Catalyst360 memorandum of understanding, and the funding, was defeated.

Thomson’s report introduced the proposal by stating, “Municipalities in Bruce County face enormous challenges and opportunities. Technologies are evolving at exponential rates. Residents’ lives are changing and they expect powerful solutions to support their changing needs. Despite distinct challenges and characteristics, all municipalities face common complexity and uncertainty, such as financial constraints, aging infrastructure, climate change, shifting demographics, technological advancements, and political and regulatory pressures. What brings us together and unites us is our shared determination to overcome these obstacles. Through collaboration and positive, forward thinking, we can embrace disruption and create the future for our communities.

“This truly is a transformative program,” said Thomson.

The proposal came with operational funding of $175,000 annually, from 2024 to 2026. Member municipalities presently pay varying amounts; this would end. In the future, funding would be project-based.

In March, Saugeen Shores had provided a letter to the MIC member municipalities stating the Nuclear Innovation Institute would no longer support MIC program delivery. MIC members asked the county to provide a proposal on taking the lead role and support program delivery, “recognizing that the county may offer a model that will serve the partnership goals at a different scale, as well as have the internal capacity to support shared initiatives.”

Prior to the committee meeting, the proposal had received unanimous support from MIC members.

The proposal identified a number of objectives: cultivating an innovation culture; fostering collaboration between municipal partners; enabling municipal partners to be early adopters of innovative technologies, products and services; and create efficiencies and cost savings.

Projects would be pursued under two streams – innovation and efficiency. Potential areas of focus include workforce, development and growth, quality of life, municipal operations and employee success, digital capacity, community safety, sustainability and infrastructure.

Regarding the proposal’s impact on the county budget – there would be no impact this year. The report presented by Thomson stated “long-term, stable funding (2024-2026) is essential to foster and implement a culture of innovation, allowing Catalyst360 to take calculated risk and deliver long-term success.”

The proposal outlined by Thomson stated hiring a Catalyst360 staff person was a priority.

At present, Northern Bruce Peninsula is not a member of MIC. Seeking their participation was a stated priority for 2024.

During the presentation, Thomson said one thing that makes this proposal different from the present MIC is, it would be “results-driven.”

County Coun. Kenneth Craig, Kincardine, opened the question period with comments about risk – municipalities are inherently averse to risk.

“This present action is asking us to take risk,” he said. “It is a risk I am supporting – Kincardine can’t afford to do this by ourselves,” he said.

County Coun. Milt McIver, Northern Bruce Peninsula, stated he wasn’t “quite on the same page” with Craig, in that he regards the proposal as giving “pre-budget approval” for up to 2026. And considering the 2023 budget, “we have a lot of issues we have to deal with, maybe before we look at this one here.” He also said he saw no reason why a lot of what was proposed couldn’t be undertaken “with the staff we have.”

McIver didn’t close the door completely on the proposal, suggesting reconsidering it at some future time, perhaps during budget deliberations.

County Coun. Steve Hammell asked about funding, saying the proposed model was “an area for potential conflict.”

County Coun. Luke Charbonneau, Saugeen Shores, also questioned funding, and was told the current funding model would change.

County Coun. Don Murray, Huron-Kinloss, was another committee member with questions about budget. However, he strongly endorsed what Craig had to say about working together, seeing it as a win for everyone.

Charbonneau said the model presented by Thomson was the same as before – the CAOs oversee it and collaborate on it.

“I don’t see a difference.”

He noted that if the county wants to oversee it, “surely we can… we’ve just hired a deputy CAO… If the county wants to lead a collaborative effort with the municipalities, that’s what the county should do. I think the county can do it with the staff we currently have … and probably should.” However, he wants to see a new model – the MIC model wasn’t working, he said. He added he wouldn’t be supporting Catalyst360.

Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times