At the March 7th council meeting Oscar Peloni of KPMG delivered a review of municipal service delivery, a truncated overview of a 147-page report to identify opportunities for increasing effectiveness and efficiency in municipal operations. The review, undertaken during the pandemic, was completed some time ago, and has been awaiting presentation. The study was funded by the province’s Municipal Modernization Program, with the condition the report be made public. Peloni said his firm did a documentation review, examined processes, and consulted extensively with staff. His executive summary highlighted the major findings, with key recommendations to increase user fees, improve technology and use more contractors for service delivery.
The consultant stressed that trimming services to save money is not an option in many cases. “There is a very high degree of what we call mandatory, or essential services, and these are services that, as a municipality, you are required by legislation to deliver… Half of what you do, you do because legislation requires you to… You don’t have a lot of discretion over half of your services,” he pointed out. Other services provided are for health and safety and protection – water and sewer as an example. “There is no requirement for municipalities in Ontario to deliver water services, but the reality is water is instrumental to public health.” And then there are the services that are expected for quality of life. “There’s no legislative requirement to have an arena… but it is expected in northern Ontario. …When you do a service delivery review, it’s important to recognize [that] while you can change how you deliver services, while you can change service levels in certain instances, the ability for you to find a magic bullet to cut 20% of your budget by saying there’s gravy in the system really doesn’t apply.”
KPMG compared West Nipissing to other municipalities with a similar number of households and found tax rates fair. “I’ve been doing this for 32 years. I never speak in terms of “per capita” … When the garbage truck stops on my street, it stops at houses. Whether there’s three people living in the house or five people living in the house or one person living in the house, it stops at the houses. … When we select comparators, we look at similar numbers of households.” As a single tier municipality in northern Ontario, “we found that your financial indicators, generally speaking, fared very fairly compared to the other municipalities… In West Nipissing household owners are paying a comparable percentage of their income for municipal taxes,” Peloni stated, adding that over the past two years, the tax hikes amount to “$5 a month or less” for a taxpayer in general.
Peloni’s team took a close look at how West Nipissing delivers services and did find deficiencies in technology. “Are you using manual processes versus automated processes? Are you duplicating work efforts where people are keying things in twice? Are you using hard copy documentation which complicates how you retrieve documents?” The answer was too often “yes,” something that can be addressed with more automated processes. “There’s nothing we’ve seen at West Nipissing we haven’t seen elsewhere,” Peloni said. “In terms of manual processes, paper documentation, customer service impacts, the reality is all municipalities can improve their service.”
He also addressed the matter of customer service, as when a client has to go to different offices or departments to get a simple job done – another area that could be improved with technology and offering services online. “When we looked at your services and service offerings versus the resources that were behind it to support those services, we actually found gaps… It is not our place to dictate strategy to you, to dictate policy to you, but it is our place to point out, for example, that in comparison to other municipalities, particularly of your size, there’s things we would have expected to see that we didn’t. Things around information technology. Things around human resources, things around strategy and policy development.”
Peloni found that West Nipissing is large enough to have a separate Information Technology department. “There are actual risks associated with this. If you think about information technology, for example, it’s all about cybersecurity.” On the HR front, they found “the potential risk that you have exposure there from a human resources perspective. It’s the concept of the potential for lawsuits because of wrongful dismissal … issues around labor relations. Similarly, if you think about the regulations for the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disability Act – what it takes to actually put a report on your website that’s compliant… There’s a number of gaps that we found from a competency perspective… It doesn’t appear the investments were made, and you pay the price.”