How Can LAS Best Support Ontario Municipalities Moving Forward?

Posted: February 16, 2017
Tagged As: Asset Management, Climate Change, GHG Emissions, LAS Programming

The Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) kicked off 2017 with a brand new conference, attracting more than 1,000 municipal delegates and exhibitors to downtown Toronto!  LAS was proud to be a platinum sponsor of this event, which brought with it the opportunity to directly address the needs and concerns of rural Ontario through two Focus Group sessions held on the first day of the conference. The sessions gave delegates a forum to provide feedback on existing LAS programs and services, lend their support and guidance to fellow rural municipalities, and identify areas for potential new programming to help tackle some of the biggest challenges facing Ontario municipalities today.

Over the past 25 years, LAS has supported municipalities by providing programs and services to help build stronger communities.  Many of those programs are still in operation today and received high praise from those in attendance at the focus group.  One municipality remarked that the One Investment Program “generated more money in 6 months than they had in the period 5 years” while others applauded the LED Streetlight Program for its ease of administration, and significant energy and cost savings. And although we love to hear how our programming is helping Ontario’s municipalities, we can’t lose sight of the many new challenges and issues that they face moving forward. 

The Issues

In his address to rural Ontario, LAS Chair Gary McNamara commented that, “rural communities are the backbone of this province, but face some of the biggest fiscal and capacity challenges,” pointing to large areas of land and small tax bases as key contributors to these challenges.  Delegates attending the focus group sessions confirmed this notion, adding that the rising costs of energy and utilities (electricity, fuel, natural gas, water) are specifically areas of increasing concern.  There were also questions about the 8% Rebate for Electricity Consumers and the implications of Cap and Trade, both of which have recently been addressed on the LAS Blog. 

In addition to those somewhat familiar challenges, there are a number of new ones that municipalities voiced concerns about:
  • Too much time spent on government mandated reporting and funding applications
  • Lack of standardized training for volunteers and staff
  • Lack of insurance options for volunteers and events
  • Lack of funding / support for declining rural infrastructure
  • Rising cost of 3rd party services (policing, water/wastewater, etc.)
  • Lack of staff capacity to address HR issues such as recruitment and discipline
  • Lack of knowledge / resources related to AODA compliance, security, IT infrastructure, etc.

Next steps?

Learning what the most widespread challenges are for rural Ontario municipalities is the first step to developing a solution.  However, getting from point A to B can be a long and arduous process.  LAS will now begin to review these challenges and possible solutions to determine if a new program offering is viable, and if so, what it might look like.  While each challenge or issue is equally as valid as the next, some challenges will lend themselves better to new programming than others. 

Even if a solution seems obvious, there is no guarantee that avenue will fit the LAS service model.  Factors considered by LAS when developing a new program or service include:
  • A material benefit from group aggregation (cost savings)
  • Introducing a new technology to the sector (increased efficiency)
  • Implementing a solution that is useful for all Ontario municipalities (widespread interest)
To give you an idea of the timeline associated with developing a new program from scratch, one of LAS’ newest services took more than two years to get off the ground.  The idea of bulk procuring vehicles is not a foreign concept to LAS. It makes sense that if LAS can leverage the buying power of Ontario’s 444 municipalities, it should be able to achieve a significant discount on each vehicle unit.  However, simply providing a means of buying vehicles for municipal fleets seemed short-sighted given that model doesn’t address two other issues - rising fuel costs; and Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution by 15 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050.  It made little sense to provide assistance with one issue if we couldn’t provide assistance with the other two.  So, while the idea of a fleet management service has been floating around for a few years now, it wasn’t until LAS was able to connect the dots between managing a vehicle fleet, reducing fuel costs, and controlling GHG emissions that the LAS Fleet Management Service began to take shape. 

A similar process may lie ahead for many of the concerns voiced at the recent ROMA conference.  For now, we begin the process of determining which ideas fit the LAS service model, which would serve the greatest number of municipalities, and how these programs would best be delivered.   Should there be any major developments in the future, we will keep you apprised. 

In the meantime, municipalities can look forward to not only the new Fleet Management Service in 2017, but also a new Roads Assessment Service that will launch at the annual AMO Asset Management Symposium this April.  Both services fall in line with the concerns (infrastructure and asset management) voiced at the ROMA focus group sessions.  It is our hope that these two new services meet the ever-changing needs of Ontario’s municipalities and provide them with confidence that, with their continued support, more new and innovative solutions to your challenges are on the way.

Did We Miss Anything?

The focus group discussions at ROMA were very insightful and we want to hear more.  To continue the conversation, please feel free to share your thoughts by commenting on this blog post, sending an email to LAS@LAS.on.ca, or by using our New Service Idea submission form to propose a solution to an issue you face.

Comments
J A Brydges
Lack of reliable funding for replacement of rural bridges from the 1930's, 1940's, and 1950's
Uncontrolled escalating costs of OPP policing
Unknown implications of Cap and Trade on rural municipalities
Uncontrolled escalating costs of Hydro for water plants, sewer plants, and small town arenas
2/22/2017 9:04:57 AM