June '13 Newsletter

Committee to Consider Potential for Regional Collaboration


Roger Morrill, Mayor, Town of Athabasca

Members of Athabasca Town Council agree that there is potential for greater collaboration among municipalities in the region and are looking to establish a regional committee to explore this potential. Collaboration can translate into more efficient use of resources and enhanced opportunities for government funding.

Athabasca Mayor Roger Morrill has long been an advocate for the purpose and value of regional collaboration. During the regular Council meeting of April 16, Roger presented a recommendation to query the surrounding municipalities to determine their interest in such a committee and to invite their participation on it.

“As Town Council, we are responsible for delivery of services in the most effective way possible for the benefit of our community,” says Roger. “I believe that the growth of our municipality should be shared with our partners.”

He is hoping to see interest and enthusiasm for the committee from Athabasca County, the Village of Boyle and the summer villages in the region. The Town already shares a variety of collaborative efforts with Athabasca County.

“Regional collaboration exists with Athabasca County on different levels,” Roger explains. “Some examples include regional water, waste management services, fire protection and recreational facilities. We have many good examples of collaboration. Let’s find other areas where we can extend this.”

Further areas of possible co-operation may include, but are not limited to, public works, by-law services, tourism, management expertise and information technology services.

One benefit to taking a collaborative approach to the management of resources and programs is that regionally co-operative partners can reduce or eliminate duplication through shared services, says Roger. The potential for shared revenue streams is another benefit to be considered.

“While the provincial government is looking for ways to cut back on funding to municipalities,” notes Roger, “they have also significantly increased grant availability to assist with regional collaborative initiatives.”

He points to the example of other municipalities in Alberta that have formed collaborative alliances and have found ways to share both services and revenue streams. The proposed Athabasca Regional Collaboration Committee would identify and research similar possibilities and opportunities that may be available to partner communities in the Athabasca region.

Regional collaboration could also strengthen the appeal the region has to industry and businesses looking to start up or relocate here.

“Business and industry look at municipal co-operation,” says Roger. “Collaboration can help us improve our competitive advantage as a region. To accomplish this, we need to get together, put all of our options on the table and be open-minded.”

Roger notes also that many services are provided within town limits – from municipal services to commercial services, education and more – that are well used by residents not only from town, but from  throughout the region. “This community does not end at the Town boundaries,” he says.

The infrastructure required to support these services is in many cases funded by the Town. Rather than relying entirely on town taxpayers to support the cost of these services, he believes that a more equitable funding formula could be used that would include input from the surrounding municipalities from where many of the service users originate.

“It makes sense to include as many partners as we can,” says Roger. “Let’s put our heads together to find local solutions to ensure long-term municipal viability.”

That is his vision for the Athabasca Regional Collaboration Committee, to bring together representatives from throughout the region willing to research and consider the possibilities and opportunities available. The aim is to produce greater operational efficiencies and a stronger regional community.

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Municipal Corporate Review


Ryan Maier, CAO, Town of Athabasca

The Municipal Corporate Review for the Town of Athabasca, as requested by Town Council in June of 2012, was completed earlier this year and presented to the Town in March.

Conducted as a co-operative effort between Council and Administration and Alberta Municipal Affairs, the main purpose was to examine opportunities for improvement in the local governance process. The document explains the purpose and process of a municipal corporate review and includes 31 recommendations for improvement.

In an accompanying letter, the Minister, Doug Griffiths, congratulated the Town for taking the initiative to request a corporate review.

“The report identifies a number of positive practices and strengths in the municipality,” states the Minister. “It is apparent that council and staff are meeting the challenges and maintaining a sound standard of governance, administration and financial practice.”

The review document was received by Council and Administration as a positive and helpful resource that they will use to further enhance the governance process in Athabasca. A number of the recommendations have already been implemented, with plans in place to implement or review additional items on the list.

“Overall, what the report says is that generally, things are going well from an operational standpoint and from a financial standpoint,” says Ryan Maier, Town Chief Administrative Officer. “There is always room for improvement; we know that. That is why we requested the review in the first place.”

The Town was looking for an outside view, an external assessment of governance practices, he adds. “The review has done that. Now we have to take those recommendations and put them into practice.”

The majority of the recommendations deal with policies and procedures that are in need of updating. Council and Admin were generally aware of many of the needs. The report simply highlights and reinforces them and encourages the Town to take action.

There were a few items that required only minor changes and they have been dealt with already. A number of fiscal policies needed to be updated, and those have also been done.

The first item on the list recommends that the Town website be updated with current agenda documents and meeting minute documents. This has been done.

“The next step is to have Council review the remaining recommendations and prioritize which items to work on first, and then we will go from there,” says Ryan.

 For a few of the recommendations, it will make better sense to schedule them later this year.

“Recommendation number 10, that councillors and key administration staff participate in a Roles, Responsibilities and Relationships workshop; we will do this shortly after the fall election,” Ryan explains. “Recommendation number 30, that council develop capital and strategic plans; this will wait until after the election.”

The complete list of recommendations is included in the review document, posted on the Town website at this link: Town of Athabasca Municipal Corporate Review

“Nothing really stood out as an issue of critical importance,” notes Ryan. “For the most part, it was a number of minor things, like bylaws and policies that need to be updated.”

Using the review as a guide, the Town will continue to move forward with the recommendations in an ongoing effort to serve the best interests of the community.

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                                                 Municipal Sustainability Initiative Funding

 

Since 2007, the Town of Athabasca, along with other municipalities across the province, including others in the Athabasca region, have benefited from Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) funding provided by the Government of Alberta.

The purpose of the MSI program is to provide municipalities with predictable, sustainable funding for infrastructure projects in order to help keep them strong.

The annual MSI funding allotment for Athabasca comes in two portions, including capital project funding and operating funding. A letter to the Town from Alberta Municipal Affairs, dated April 2, advised that Athabasca’s allocation for 2013 would be $586,762 in capital project funding and $54,580 in conditional operating funding, for a combined total of $641,342.

The good news is that’s an increase of $23,633 over the 2012 allocation. However, the operating portion of the funding will be decreased incrementally over the next few years and will be eliminated in 2016.

The letter explains that the allocations are based on a formula that was established for the long-term MSI program and are calculated annually to reflect changing circumstances in the municipalities. Factors that influence the allocation amounts can include shifts in population, the education tax requisition, and the number of kilometers of local roads compared to the provincial total.

As the operating portion of the funding phases out over the next several years, the letter states that “the funding will be realigned to the Regional Collaboration Program to encourage all municipalities to work with each other to achieve regional objectives.”

Until the phasing-out process advances further and more is understood about the proposed transitional process, the Town may have to consider alternative methods of compensating for the affected funding.

Athabasca Mayor Roger Morrill notes that as the operating portion of the funding goes to zero, the Town will have to be even more diligent in finding efficiencies that promote sustainability, now and into the future.

“We will have to take a cautious approach and be prudent in our spending,” says Roger.

Town Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Maier agrees.

“The operating portion of the MSI is significant to many communities,” says Ryan. “We’ll have to once again try to reduce costs. There are no other sources of revenue, other than raising taxes or user fees, and most people don’t want to see that happen. We would look at reducing costs first, before raising fees.”

Since funding is an issue for municipalities across the province, the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA), of which the Town is a member, is conducting some research on behalf of its members.

“The AUMA is currently reviewing alternative methods of revenue generation for municipalities,” notes Ryan.

Despite the anticipated reduction in the operating portion of the MSI program, the Town is appreciative of the support received to date. Since the program was first introduced in 2007 it has provided Athabasca with a significant amount of funding. “A lot of our projects are paid for through MSI funding,” says Ryan.

Municipal Sustainability Initiative information for 2013, including funding amounts for all Alberta municipalities, can be found on the Municipal Affairs MSI website at http://municipalaffairs.gov.ab.ca/msi.cfm.

Links to the funding amounts for the previous years can be found at http://www.municipalaffairs.alberta.ca/msi-funding-allocations-eligibility.cfm.

 

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