Wellington North ‘trying to read the tea leaves’ for future cost cutting

KENILWORTH –  No crystal ball can determine what the provincial government is looking for from municipalities, but Wellington North plans to work with other municipalities in Wellington County to find efficiencies.

On May 13, councillors reviewed a report from CAO Mike Givens regarding the province’s Modernization, Efficiency Grant.

“We are trying to read the tea leaves to a certain degree in terms of what the province is looking for,” said Givens, noting a service level review is the next step.

Givens’ report recommended a number of steps, including that the county’s  seven lower-tier CAOs hire a consultant for a municipal services review, following approval by all municipalities.

Also planned are two joint meetings of the member municipal councils and Wellington County council, to be held in a central location at Centre Wellington’s Fergus recreational facility.

Further, Given’s report recommended the county act as treasurer for the municipal services review project and that Wellington North transfer $25,000 of its Provincial Modernization, Efficiency Grant funds to the county to support the review.

The balance of funds received by the township would be set aside in a Community and Contingency Discretionary Reserve for costs associated with the implementation of approved municipal services review recommendations and other Wellington North initiatives identified by township staff.

In 1998, Wellington County began implementing the Kitchen-Armstrong Report, which restructured 21 local municipalities and re-aligned several municipal services and responsibilities. 

The resulting structure is what the county and its municipalities still operate under (with some minor modifications). 

The Kitchen-Armstrong Report was completed over the course of two months and built on the work of the county restructuring committee. 

Efficiency Grant 

On March 20, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark announced a one-time distribution of $200 million to assist, “small and rural municipalities’ efforts to become more efficient and reduce expenditure growth in the longer term.” 

Wellington North is to receive $618,175; Wellington County is to receive $725,000.

In total, the county and its seven municipalities will receive over $4.9 million.  

Clark indicated the grant is unconditional and “it is intended to help modernize service delivery and reduce future costs through investments in projects such as: service delivery reviews, development of shared services agreements and capital investments.” 

Givens said that falls in line with the province’s expectation that municipalities will take steps to become more efficient as well.

He said with the current review of the regions and two counties, “it seems prudent to recommend action to address the provincial expectation of reviewing our systems to find cost saving efficiencies.”

The CAOs concurred that:

– the county will contribute $175,000 to the study and each of the seven municipalities will contribute $25,000, for a total budget of $350,000;

– an RFP or RFI will be used to select a consultant, using the county’s purchasing process and policies;

– the steering committee selecting the consultant and facilitating their work will be comprised of the CAOs;

– emphasis will be on the consultant’s capacity for financial analysis and municipal experience;

– municipal services will be reviewed with respect to being shared through agreement, uploaded or downloaded, extended or eliminated;

– omitted services will be those uploaded following the Kitchen-Armstrong review (i.e. waste management, policing, and library services) and provincially mandated services (i.e. housing, childcare, welfare and long term care);

– the consultant will interview all CAOs, all managers directing specific services, and the seven mayors;

– the consultant will attend two joint meetings of the councils – the first to outline the plan, and the second to deliver the report and recommendations;

– the service review should be considered the first phase of the process, the second phase being the implementation of approved service changes;

– the need for additional phases may be identified in the review;

– stakeholders may be involved during the implementation phase in order to refine results; and,

– completion of the review and finalization of recommendations will be scheduled for consideration during 2020 budget processes (fall 2019).    

Givens said similar reports are being distributed to municipalities across Wellington County.

He added the review will bring the ideas of the Kitchen-Armstrong Report into the current age. He also noted the review is just one piece of the puzzle.

“Locally we have a lot of great ideas among our staff and ways to modernize our own service delivery,” said Givens. He noted “there is nothing wrong” with the province looking to municipalities to find efficiencies, as, “Sometimes we get a little set in our ways.” 

He noted new technology could be helpful and, “There may be things we can implement locally to make things more easily accessible.”

Mayor Andy Lennox said some municipalities are worried this is a foreshadowing of future forced amalgamations by the province.

“We are looking for opportunities in Wellington County where we can learn from each other.”

He said many see this as putting “the balm on the wound before we get burned.”