Wellington North confirms commitment to collaboration with other municipalities in the hunt for efficiencies

WELLINGTON NORTH – Township council here has confirmed its support for continued efforts to work with other Wellington County municipalities to seek efficiencies.

Council, at its July 27 meeting, received an update report on current strategic priorities and the recent municipal service review undertaken jointly by county municipalities, entitled “Top 20 in ‘20 Opportunities”.

Council passed a motion recommended in the report indicating continued support for utilization of township resources, including staff time, in collaborating with member municipalities and the county on further investigating and implementation of the efficiency opportunities identified in the Top 20 in ’20 report.

Those opportunities include a joint IT service delivery review, a shared public works facility with the County of Wellington and a shared drainage superintendent position with the Town of Minto.

In 2019 Wellington North received $618,175 through the province’s Municipal Modernization Grant program.

Though the funds are unconditional, Wellington North, the County of Wellington and the other member municipalities, which also received modernization grants, committed funds towards a service review that was completed by KPMG and resulted in the “20 in ’20” priorities.

Since then, Wellington North and the Town Minto have collaborated on a shared fire service leadership team, including a common director of fire services, as well as a shared drainage positing.

The IT review with other county municipalities is in the works.

Councillor Sherry Burke asked for an update on the collaborations.

“I’m just wondering if we can get sort of a status update of where those projects are at from staff,” said Burke.

“I know I don’t usually worry about our neighbours too much, but it seems like all of the projects, in my mind, that we are undertaking in the 2020 opportunities are fairly significant, so I’m just wondering what the other neighbouring municipalities are doing that maybe we’re not working with, and how they are spending their funds.”

Burke said she is particularly interested in a current status report on the three initiatives identified in the staff-recommended motion “as opposed to a report coming back that makes it seem like we don’t have a choice.”

CAO Mike Givens explained meetings have been held at the senior staff level with the county about a possible location for the shared public works facility and cost of servicing.

He noted the county has had some conversations in regard to purchasing land for the building.

Operations manager Matt Aston said the drainage superintendent proposal has received endorsement in principal from the councils involved and staff of the two municipalities are working on a template for an agreement and a job description to bring back for council to “have another look.

“We’re working through the details,” said Aston.

Finance director Adam McNabb explained that Blackline Consulting has been engaged to facilitate the IT service delivery review.

He said the consultants have interviewed member municipalities and third-party service providers and is at the “data gathering and analysis,” stage.

Allowing for an extension of the original deadline due to the COVID-19 pandemic impacts, McNabb said the review is expected to be completed by the end of September.

Givens pointed out all Wellington County municipalities with the exception of the Town of Erin are participating in the IT review and all county municipalities are also participating in an ongoing asset management review.

“Beyond that I don’t have a particular answer in terms of what else they are utilizing their funds for,” said Givens.

Givens explained in his report that with the allocation of $14,800 for the county service delivery review and a $4,300 allocation for licensing costs for electronic document signing software, the township has a current balance in its capital infrastructure reinvestment reserve fund of about $599,000.

“For many of the initiatives, departments have been able to fund them from existing operating budgets,” the report indicates.

Lennox added that county is moving forward on the shared public works facility with a view to replacing both upper and lower tier works garages in Arthur and “perhaps some other needs as well.”

While it’s “not decided,” Lennox said the county is approaching the project with the idea of taking on the capital expense of construction and looking at a long-term lease arrangement with Wellington North – “Not a capital expense for township.”

“If we have concern about participating on that type of basis, we should probably declare that sooner rather than later,” said Lennox, noting county staff are aiming to have land for the project purchased by the end of year, with design work to be done in 2021 and construction in 2022, “or perhaps sooner.

“This is coming fairly soon,” the mayor stressed.

“It’s still in the development stage, so if we have concerns about this type of an approach sooner, rather than later, would be a time to air those concerns.”

Lennox pointed out the collaborative initiatives underway flowed from a provincial push for municipalities to look for ways to operate more efficiently.

“Our own local strategic plan has identified partnerships and we have many partnerships already that involve fires service, recreation services … we work with service clubs in terms of raising money for community events, community facilities … and I know there’s been some individuals suggest that these partnerships are a precursor to amalgamation,” Lennox stated.

“I don’t’ see it that way at all. I see it as the exact opposite of that. It’s allowing us to continue to remain autonomous and prove to the province that we can run in an efficient manner so that we can continue to have our local say and our local autonomy.”

Lennox continued, “These are big projects and we’re tackling them maybe more aggressively than some of our … municipalities across the province, but sometimes that’s what happens when you’re the leader.

“I think we have a number of staff members who have taken a really strong leadership role in some of these initiatives and I think we should try and tip our hat to them especially under these trying circumstances with the COVID-19.”

“Staff definitely has to be commended,” agreed councillor Steve McCabe.

“I do believe in Wellington County, and I’ve always thought … Wellington North is a leader and will continue to be and I think this is the right approach as well.”

The motion, expressing support for further investigation and implementation of efficiencies, passed unopposed.