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Passion over services perfect response to evoke discussion

Prince Edward County Mayor Peter Mertens and Hallowell councillor Heather Campbell chat as the Shire Hall gallery fills with supporters of various services listed in a report by the County's CAO and commissioners as financial sustainability opportunities. About 50 members of the public filled the gallery. There were 10 deputations followed by deputations from the audience.

Countless phone calls, emails, petitions and people passionate about services in Prince Edward County was exactly the response needed to evoke discussion and decisions at Shire Hall Wednesday.

In its bid to achieve financial sustainability, council on Wednesday, reviewed 19 motions for change suggested by the County’s CAO and commissioners.
“The success of this exercise that has been achieved, said CAO Merlin Dewing, “was that everybody was talking about it and that’s good because that’s what we needed – this kind of flurry of activity to evoke the kind of discussion we’re having.”

Among the 19 suggestions were ideas affecting three of the County’s six libraries, its town halls, fire halls, policies and decision making. Garnering the most public passion, was support for the libraries and councillors unanimously decided to consult with the Library Board to explore cost-savings and efficiencies. Council also voted to keep community halls and museums, but will study the facilities for cost savings and efficiencies.

About 50 concerned citizens were in attendance in the gallery for the morning session of deputations – most showing support for the libraries, but also for the museums, the “troubled” taxpayer, the advisory committees, the Federation of Agiculture and accessibility committee.

PEC CAO Merlin Dewing

The suggestions, CAO Merlin Dewing said, were “to look at modest, and substantial changes to the way we do business and how that will affect our financial well-being as well as the socio-economic well-being of the community.
“We are only at the beginning of a very long trip,” he said. “We’re looking at a five to 10-year plan to achieve financial sustainability and stability. And even though there appears to be a frenzy of activity going on, we’re incrementally moving along to make decisions that can be incorporated into a long-range plan.”

On top of council’s list in marching orders to the CAO is an organizational review.
“Our first order of business was to try to identify ‘what do we really want to do?’ and ‘to what degree we want to do it?’ and ‘what level of those services we choose do we want to provide?’
“The outcome was that many of the activities seemed to be very important and the areas we’re looking for, are areas of services that are not very important so that we could focus on reducing the delivery of those services. We also try and focus on services that are deemed very important, however to which satisfaction is low. There are some of those, for instance, road maintenance, which there was a substantial cut last year.”

Dewing told councillors there was nothing that stood out that council identified; that they wanted to spend less money, but in the same breath wanted to reduce taxes.
“We know we can save money with staff re-allocation and staff reduction, but that’s not anywhere near sufficient to get us the tax room, the financial room, that we need,” Dewing said.

“We’re stuck in this grey area of no tax increases and no reduction of services or levels, with the little black cloud of too many staff and too high wages hanging over us but we know that isn’t sufficient in the total context to solve the problem.
“With the view to creating more financial capacity – not even having touched on our infrastructure deficit, in that we’re not putting enough money away to do what we want to do today… what are we going to do about tomorrow; and every building we own is going to cost us money and every piece of property we own is not bringing in revenue. We had to create an environment to evoke detailed thought, to evoke passionate discussion, which is coming from the public and it’s the kind of thing that maybe if you go to the doctor he says ‘If you don’t stop smoking you will die’. Well, suddenly you have a burning platform that you have to do something rather than coasting along because things will get better… expecting a huge amount of money to come in from the province or the feds. That’s not happening anymore. We have to fend for ourselves.”

Dewing echoed the mayor’s comments about the Eastern Ontario Warden’s Caucus Financial Sustainability report “that speaks clearly to the dilemma we are all in. So, to evoke the kind of discussion needed to allow us to move to a stage where we can make very hard decisions on services, these suggestions were brought forward to council.”
The municipality, he stressed, “can no longer do everything that we do… It is council’s responsibility to tell us what services we need to deliver and to what levels. We can create the organization that will address that.”
Staff, he said, isn’t looking for more power. “What we’re trying to do is get answers and clear, concise direction, that we can move forward on.”

Every item suggested was at the approval and discretion of council. Once councillors were clear that approval meant further reports to investigate, and in some cases, sample bylaws, they made the following decisions on the 19 suggestions:

1. THAT Council direct as follows specific service and service level changes as a prelude to reorganization and redeployment of staff to meet core operational and service delivery needs, and optimize effectiveness and efficiencies:
-Motion to discuss broad range of ideas at next Wednesday’s budge meeting.

2. THAT staff be directed to bring forward a by-law to delegate routine decision making authority to staff to streamline decision making for the customer and allow Council to focus its deliberations on strategic issues and policy setting.
-Carried 9-6

3. THAT staff be directed to bring forward revisions to the procedural by-law to achieve process efficiency and minimize costly meeting time.
-Lost 8-8

4. THAT staff be directed to bring forward an updated purchasing by-law that will give more flexibility to staff to streamline the purchasing process and minimize costs, while maintaining appropriate controls and accountability.
-Carried 14-2

5. THAT staff be directed to bring forward corporate and economic strategic plans that will guide Council decision making, align service delivery with overall goals and objectives and focus staff activities.
Carried 16-0

6. THAT staff be directed to negotiate all collective agreements to create more operational flexibility in order to become more efficient.
Carried 15-1

7. THAT staff be directed to review and revise the non‐union personnel policies to create more operational flexibility in order to become more efficient and bring forward external comparators grid adjustments to market to improve staff recruitment and retention, thereby reducing overall costs.
-Carried 10-6

8. THAT staff be directed to identify for sale all surplus lands that clearly do not support our strategic plan(s) needs and use as economic development drivers to either stimulate economic growth or should that opportunity not exist, generate revenue to pay down debt or replenish reserves.
-Carried 14-2

9. THAT, subject to the Master Fire Study recommendations, staff be directed to rationalize the locations of and reduce the number of fire halls and reduce fleet requirements including potential divestiture of surplus buildings/equipment to reduce operating, maintenance and replacement costs and generate revenue from divestitures.
-Carried 11-5

10. THAT, subject to a positive business case, staff be directed to relocate Public Works depots and combine with other functions where possible and reduce fleet requirements including potential divestiture of surplus buildings/equipment to reduce operating, maintenance and replacement costs and generate revenue from divestitures.
-Carried 14-2

11. THAT staff be directed to rationalize the continued viability of each community centre/hall in the context of its use, cost and viable alternatives and, if there is a positive business case, divest certain ones and use them as economic development drivers.
-Lost 12-4

12. THAT the Wellington Town Hall be declared surplus to the needs of the municipality and staff be directed to divest for use as an economic development driver.
-Carried 9-7

13. THAT the Wellington Museum collection be transferred to an alternate location, the building declared surplus to the needs of the municipality and staff be directed to divest for use as an economic development driver.

14. THAT staff be directed to consult with and where appropriate and in the best interests of service delivery/improvement, transfer responsibility functions and/or facilities to community groups or affiliated “Friends of” organizations.
-Carried 16-0

15. THAT the Bloomfield library building be declared surplus to the needs of the municipality and staff be directed to either relocate the Bloomfield library into the lower level of the community centre/hall or close it altogether and divest the library building for use as an economic driver.
16. THAT the Ameliasburgh library building be declared surplus to the needs of the municipality and staff be directed to relocate the Ameliasburgh library into the community centre or the museum church and divest the library building to generate revenue to either pay down debt or replenish reserves.
17. THAT the Consecon library building be declared surplus to the needs of the municipality, the library branch closed and staff be directed to divest of the building to generate revenue to either pay down debt or replenish reserves or return it to the parishioners as may be required.
-15, 16, and 17 – Lost 16-0. Amended motion for savings and efficiencies in consultation with Library Board.

18. THAT all non-statutory advisory committees be eliminated and their functions assumed by staff, with community input being sought on a case-by-case, as needed, basis to reduce staff support, improve staff productivity and reduce overtime costs, as well as speed up process time requirements.
– Withdrawn

19. THAT staff be directed to undertake a comprehensive review of our waste management strategy to identify optimum services levels, efficiencies and alternate delivery options.
-Carried 15-1

Budget discussions continue March 21-23.

Click here for the CAO’s budget presentation in February:

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  1. Doris Lane says:

    Mark is right on–why do we need so much staff–The elected coubcillors make the decisions not the staff–whwere is the motion that says that staff should take a pay cut in these difficuly economic times
    DO NOT REDUCE THE LoCATION OF FIRE HALLS–INSURANCE RATES ARE BASED ON THE LOCALITY OF FIRE STATIONS AND THEIR DISTANCE FRON PROPERTY. lIBARIES,MUSEUMS ETC WE CAN DO WITHOUT–Not firestations–water and sewer and necessary infastructure We are living in a different world now–lets try and adjust to it.

  2. Mark says:

    The largest expense is staff and staff benefit plans. If an independent staffing review is not completed to determine needs, assess current levels and explore efficiencies, then how does council know what they are dealing with. Experience will tell you that this exercise cannot come from within. It requires independent assessment that has no self serving interest in the findings. It is a difficult exercise and it causes great anxiety and union unrest but it is an enormous expense to the taxpayer that requires a thorough examination. Right now it is unknown if there are too many staff, not enough staff or if staff are deployed efficiently. Corporations (which Prince Edward County is) undertake this exercise all the time particularly when there is a downturn in the economy and costs are rising. Having said that,it is a useless exercise if there is no appetite to deal with the tough decisions and challenges that may be revealed.

  3. Chris Keen says:

    #9 … staff be directed to rationalize the locations of and reduce the number of fire halls …

    I trust that “staff” will also determine whether there will be an increase in insurance costs to homeowners in any area(s) where a station is closed. And, if so, insure that the costs of increased premiums will be reflected in lower property taxes.

    Also, “staff” better look at any legal liability the County would incur by reducing service to rural homeowners thus increasing the likelihood that a fire will cause more damage or be catastrophic because of longer travel times.

  4. Marnie says:

    We did not elect “staff”. We elected councillors to represent us. Staff seems to be getting a lot more power. How long before we are told that more staff is needed for all of these added duties?

  5. Doris Lane says:

    Let’s hope that council keeps in mind how deeply in debt the county,the province,the country and the world is. Please consider this before you give away our money for things we do not need

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