Wellington municipalities join forces to seek savings, efficiencies

GUELPH – The County of Wellington and its member municipalities are making plans to work together on a municipal services review aimed at finding efficiencies and savings ahead of anticipated cuts in provincial funding.

On March 21, the provincial government announced municipalities in Wellington County would be among 405 municipalities across the province to benefit from a $200-million pool of one-time funding to help them improve local service delivery.

Wellington County will receive $725,000 through the program, while Centre Wellington will receive $618,175, Wellington North $618,175, Guelph-Eramosa $613,775, Erin $602,673, Minto $591,214, Mapleton $581,800 and Puslinch $569,599.

A press release from Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece indicated funds should be used to improve service delivery “by finding smarter, more efficient ways to spend money,” including service delivery reviews, development of shared services agreements, IT solutions, capital investments and other projects.

“When you’re digging around trying to figure out exactly what the province is doing you always get cryptic messages,” said Guelph-Eramosa Mayor Chris White at the April 25 Wellington County council meeting.

“But it seems fairly obvious to anybody sitting on any board there’s cuts coming – board of health, library, wherever you go. Municipalities are going to be subject to the same thing in the next budget we’re quite sure.” 

White, who chairs the county’s administration finance and human resources committee (AFHR), added, “So the province has given this money out, and the idea is if you think you can save some money in your municipality you should do so and that’s what the money is for.” 

A report to the committee from county CAO Scott Wilson indicates CAOs of county municipalities discussed the announcement at their quarterly meeting on March 22.

“The consensus was, given the current climate of reorganization, change and review, that the county and its municipalities need to consider how to best respond to the minister’s challenge,” Wilson states in the report.

At a follow-up meeting on April 8 the CAOs discussed local services and agreements in order to develop a recommended course of action that could be applied county-wide, and put before each council for consideration.

The CAOs recommended the county contribute its entire grant amount of $725,000 and each of the seven municipalities contribute $100,000 for a total project budget of $1,425,000.

“While the initial service review is anticipated to cost below $300,000, phase 2 implementation costs could be substantially higher,” the report notes.

However the AFHR committee amended the recommended contributions to $175,000 from the county and $25,000 from each member municipality.

Other elements of the plan recommended by the committee include forming a steering committee to develop an RFP and select a consultant to conduct the review.

“Emphasis will be placed on the consultant’s capacity for financial analysis, and demonstrated municipal experience,” the report notes.

The report indicates municipal services will be reviewed “with respect to being shared through agreement, uploaded or downloaded, extended or eliminated.”

The consultant will be required to interview all CAOs, all managers directing specific services, and all seven local mayors. The consultant will also attend two joint meetings of all Wellington municipal councils – the first to outline the review’s work plan, and the second to deliver the report and recommendations.

White told council the provincial funding is unconditional and doesn’t come with reporting requirements.

“They’re not going to measure it,” he explained. “It’s a warning that when the cuts do come they’ve given you money up front to try and save money, so don’t complain.”

White said the project is essentially a study to find efficiencies,  “which basically are, can you share some services and/or some best practices in the back offices?

“I think it’s important that we do show that we heard the province, we are taking it seriously and we’re looking for ways to be more cost effective. And from my perspective, in our township whatever we have left over I’m going to sit on it and find out what happens next year to try to buffer some of the cuts that are coming through, because they’re fairly significant and it looks like they’re coming for sure.”

Mapleton Mayor Gregg Davidson said, “I had the opportunity to have (Perth-Wellington) MPP (Randy) Pettapiece in my office this week and we did talk about the provincial modernization grant and what we were doing.

“He’s quite supportive of our direction and will be speaking to the minister at Queen’s Park.”

Councillor Jeff Duncan pointed out 13 regional tourism offices around Ontario, which are funded 100 per cent by the province, recently had their budgets cut by 20 per cent.

“And (tourism offices in) several municipalities including, Toronto and Ottawa received a 100 per cent cut to the budget, so I think it would be interesting for our budget discussions for this upcoming year, about where the provinces is going to be with municipalities, because the things they are directly controlling, they have been cutting back on budgets,” said Duncan. 

White replied, “Considering they’re uploading the transit system in Toronto, I think they can survive the cut.”

“I think it’s a good point though,” said Warden Kelly Linton. 

“That’s why it’s important that we move forward with this efficiency review, because when the government gives us surprise money and says it’s for something, you better at least put some of that money towards what they say it’s for.”

Linton said the review will provide an opportunity for municipalities to learn from each other.

“Guelph-Eramosa might be doing stellar work in some areas that Centre Wellington can learn from,” he suggested. 

The report indicates completion of the review, and finalization of recommendations, will be scheduled for consideration in time for 2020 budget processes in the fall.

Five county municipalities had already agreed to the proposal and their $25,000 contribution prior to April 26. 

Wellington North Mayor Andy Lennox said his council would be dealing with it the following week. 

Erin Mayor Allan Alls said, “We’re still thinking about it.”