Councillors from local townships met Nov. 25 to digest a massive services delivery review with 12 recommendations for more collaboration that could save upwards of $1.18 million annually.
Toronto-based consultant, StrategyCorp., presented 12 initiatives for more intermunicipal partnerships. Their report follows months of work and more than 100 interviews/workshops with councillors and staff. The firm said between operational efficiencies, productivity gains, and $74,000 in more revenue, the implemented strategies could provide that $1.18 million.
StrategyCorp principal, John Matheson, said they did not approach the job like auditors but to work alongside staff. He said there is a clear willingness on the part of municipalities for more collaboration.
“We’re not saying we found great big problems with waste here,” Matheson said. “We’re saying we were invited to come work with the team, to try and find better ways of doing things and not surprisingly, you spend this kind of effort, that we found some.”
The recommendations do not directly address the idea of amalgamation, which was never in the terms of reference for the review. Instead, it tackles where municipalities could improve services with different levels of co-operation, including places where services could be integrated to one provider – whether the County, a special body or a lead municipality.
Matheson praised the council for being open-minded about possible improvements and being willing to do a review, as well as creating a safe space for staff to consider different ideas.
“What you’ve really done is wiped away a lot of the historical stresses that come out of the air about forced amalgamation. Where people are worried about hanging onto their right to continue providing governance for fear of being stripped away from them by a provincial government,” Matheson said. “There’s lots of different ways to achieve things to the benefit of better public administration, better value for money.”
Councillors spent four hours delving into the report and questioning each of its recommendation sections. Coun. Bob Carter of Minden Hills questioned the fire service recommendations only extending to joint training, noting common issues across the municipalities such as succession planning, increased demand and escalating costs.
“It seems to me the process for determining what was looked at was not only a quantitative process but a qualitative assessment,” Carter said.
Matheson said that is accurate, adding their recommendations focused on improvements that could achieve more for fewer or similar dollars, rather than improvements that could be more costly. He added they decided on the subjects of deeper dives after their estimate of what was most worthwhile after the first phase of the process.
“It’s not that theoretically, you couldn’t do more,” Matheson said. “We would just evaluate those opportunities as being a little less ripe in the light of the state of readiness of the organizations.”
The review recommends implementation over several years, but divides recommendations into short, medium, and long-term. It suggests addressing some things, such as communications, economic development and collaborative procurement starting in 2021.
The review recommends the County begin implementation of other initiatives like planning, building, septic and bylaw in 2022. Warden Liz Danielsen said the review should be a standing item on the County committee of the whole. She added a special meeting should be called in January or early February to start working through it and the proposed timelines.
“We’ve got a lot to absorb and lots to talk about,” Danielsen said. “We need to start thinking about how we’re going to move forward.”
Coun. Carol Moffatt said some of the ideas in the report are not new, such as the County having an economic development position.
“To me, it seems like some of the reason why some of this collaboration isn’t already happening will be the same reasons why some of it doesn’t move ahead going forward,” she said. “We all sitting around this table today need to really, genuinely understand – that whether and how any of this moves forward depends on the will of each and all of us to conceive something for the greater good. For the benefit of the community.”
The Highlander will detail more aspects of the 138-page report in the coming weeks.
Significant changes recommended • Roads, bridges, and drainage: Implement capital bundling, allowing contractors to secure multiple projects at once. Formalize joint planning of road maintenance.
• Fire services: Integrate fire training and explore a joint-training facility.
• Waste management: Approve a working group to standardize waste management processes across the County and/or do a Countywide review of landfills and transfer stations.
• Building, septic, bylaw: Explore either shared service agreements or integrate services.
• Planning: Create one, central official plan with secondary plans below it. Standardize more of the planning processes across the townships. Create a new County-level planning position to assist.
• Economic development: Create a new economic development staff position.
• Collaborative procurement: Approve a new staff position for the process and approve a new shared-service agreement.
• Integrated digital strategy: Integrate long-term IT planning and municipal IT investment decisions.
• Co-ordination of legal services: Hire a county-level in-house municipal barrister and solicitor and approve a shared service agreement for it.
• Human resources co-ordination: Explore the benefits of a centralizing human resource information system. Pool benefits together and create shared-service agreements for key HR functions.
• Communications: Approve a new central communications position, which would also include grant writing.
• Co-ordination: Create a new implementation committee of County council to promote effective collaboration between local municipalities.
Joseph Quigley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Highlander