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Aug. 7, 2020 | Friday
Editorials and Opinions
Op-ed: It's time to redesign how Niagara delivers services: Zalepa
Regional Councillor Gary Zalepa. (File)

Gary  Zalepa

Special to The Lake Report

The service delivery review by Deloitte LLP, requested by the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, must be a catalyst for improvements in how all levels of municipal government can better service residents and answer the need for greater efficiency.

The report identifies many opportunities for the town, including improvements to procurement expertise, staff training for their fields of responsibility, enterprise risk management, alternative delivery of local public transit, IT support, drainage/irrigation support, improved hiring processes and other HR support items, just to highlight several from a three-page list.

All 12 Niagara municipalities have similar realities. This was true pre COVID-19 and is more evident today. The funding pressures on municipal governments have reached a critical point and it is time to act.

A change in service delivery models that removes redundancies and service overlap between local municipalities and the Region of Niagara can provide that path to sustainability.

The path forward for local government, is a restructuring of its cost model. Through redesigning how services are delivered across Niagara, a new cost structure can be achieved.

The goal is to make government more effective, reduce pressure on taxpayers and improve business competitiveness.

As an example, one of the services mentioned in the Deloitte report was procurement. It identified procurement improvements as an opportunity to make the town more efficient.

Through improvements to the town’s expertise with procurement, NOTL could save an estimated $250,000.

Deloitte recommended hiring that expertise and improving the municipality’s procurement process.  

But what if, instead of hiring and creating a permanent budget increase in staffing, the town entered into a service delivery agreement with the Region of Niagara  to provide procurement services when required. 

Using this new service delivery model the town achieves the savings from enhanced procurement expertise but does not commit to expanding the staff budget. A larger win for the taxpayer.

Now consider service delivery reviews across all 12 of Niagara’s governments. Procurement is just one example. This service delivery strategy can be implemented across many items on the list created by Deloitte, plus there are opportunities in many other areas of municipal service.

There are significant efficiencies to be achieved and sustainability is achievable, in many corporate service activities like human resource support, budget and finance, clerk’s office, and legal support.

In planning services, you could have expertise hubs that deliver specialized support for local planning departments, providing planning expertise to local municipalities when required. 

For example, when the town requires planning advice on a matter on which the local staff need outside expertise, the town would use the services of the region’s planning department rather then going to a consultant. These are just a couple of the opportunities.

Niagara Region needs to unite behind the strategy of service delivery review and needs to break with the status quo. Many alternatives previously considered are not attractive and further tax increases are not possible. Niagara needs a redesign.

Region-wide service delivery reviews must be embraced. Ask your local representatives to support a region-wide service delivery review.

Niagara municipalities can maintain their uniqueness and autonomy but by creating a sustainable delivery model, all can benefit to gain from the strength of working together.

* Gary Zalepa is regional councillor for Niagara on the Lake.