Intermunicipal framework could fill future service gaps, says Town

·5 min read

Regional municipal CAOs have been discussing the potential for a collaboration framework for more than a year and Hinton recently Drayton Valley in the first steps to developing this framework.

Similar challenges occur in communities of Hinton’s size and region, such as budget and resource constraints, difficulty recruiting for key positions, and specialized skill and training requirements, said CAO Emily Olsen during the regular council meeting on Feb. 2.

“The intention of an intermunicipal collaboration project is to explore what is possible with partner municipalities and sharing resources, including internal skills, best practices, document content and templates, or cost effective partnerships for purchasing software, external services, or other other areas where financial impacts can be spread out,” said Olsen.

Drayton Valley submitted a grant application to the Alberta partnership grant under the intermunicipal collaboration component, which Hinton supported during the Feb. 2 meeting.

The intention of the grant and its use is to support exploration, development, and piloting of an intermunicipal collaboration framework. That framework could be shared with the rest of the province if successful.

Olsen noted that this grant will allow research into the possibilities and opportunities but doesn’t tie them to the framework yet.

There is no financial commitment required by the Town of Hinton, but staff time will be needed to explore and determine where benefits and opportunities are, Olsen said.

Other municipalities supporting the grant are Rocky Mountain House, Mayerthorpe, Edson and Drayton Valley. It’s still unknown when work will start and if they were successful in receiving the grant.

“If it gains success, then the province may use our model to roll out to other municipalities of like size across the province. The first steps would be securing the grant funds and then meeting with counterparts to prioritize projects, timelines and determine available resource sharing,” said Faiaz Mir, Hinton’s communications coordinator.

Instead of competing against each other, Mayor Marcel Michaels pointed out that municipalities will help one another in areas where they may be deficient.

Working with partners that have similar needs and struggles as Hinton allows each partner to provide or share services that some municipalities can’t afford on its own, Michaels explained.

For example, an engineer may only work 15 hours in the Town of Hinton, but if they can work across municipalities, as partners they are able to provide a full time position, Michaels added.

“A lot of municipalities purchase plans just for their municipality. What if we had someone who could provide plans and then share them amongst municipalities, thus saving money. I think there are unlimited possibilities with this approach especially with communities under 15,000 who struggle to have the resources available but still have to provide a lot of services to their community,” Michaels said.

Generally, municipalities work together with their County but they often provide different services, he added. Many municipalities of Hinton’s size don’t have their own legal department like larger centres would, but by combining three or four municipalities and their budgets, they may be able to have a dedicated legal department, Michaels continued. This would help save costs on their overall legal bills.

At the moment, Michaels couldn’t identify any known specific gaps in Hinton’s service, but part of this application will be researching and developing those needs, gaps, and frameworks in each community.

“It could be engineering, GIS, legal, asset management, corporate services, there’s a long list of things municipalities could share and not purchase and deliver on their own,” Michaels said.

Besides operational services, another option could include the sharing of capital equipment.

“Let’s say we have two snow plows, if one breaks down, we could have an agreement in place to borrow with a fixed cost or some form of compensation with another municipality. So that we can borrow their backup equipment and vice versa,” Michaels said.

He noted that he hasn’t heard of municipalities sharing services and equipment like this in the past, and that the provincial government is excited about the prospect of municipalities working together.

At the end of the day, the provincial government would save money too because municipalities lean on tax revenue, service fees, and grants from the provincial government.

“They see this as an opportunity to save money overall which is not only the municipalities taxpayers, but taxpayers on every level. Provincial and federal,” Michaels said.

Participating communities will gain access to a larger talent pool through the various municipal partners, stated administration’s Feb. 2 report. This will lead to eventual standardization of processes, access to a central database containing a library of templates, specific standardized contracts, studies, and project plans.

Regional municipalities face limitations with smaller personnel budgets, and larger workloads which impact employee retention and recruitment as compared to larger centres, according to the report. In some areas the opposite is true, that the work requires a specialized skill set but the amount of work only requires a part time employment arrangement.

A tele-conference was conducted on Dec. 9, 2020 between the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Deputy Minister of Municipal Affairs, Ministers’ Chief of Staff, MLA for Drayton Valley/Devon and the CAO of Drayton Valley where the concept of this intermunicipal framework, its rationale, and progress to date was elaborated upon.

CAOs for the Towns of Mayerthorpe, Hinton, Rocky Mountain House, Edson and Drayton Valley were contacted to collaborate and jointly apply for the ACP grant. If the competitive grant application is successful, coordination of the various components and resources will begin to ensure that the completion of the pilot will fall within a period of 12 to 18 months.

The ACP grant was applied for on Jan. 5, 2021 with Drayton Valley as the lead, with letters of support from participating municipalities.

For more information, reach out to the Town of Hinton administration at info@hinton.ca

Masha Scheele, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hinton Voice