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Monday, January 30, 2023
Council debate grows testy over service delivery review

As the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is in the process of examining how it delivers services to residents, some councillors have expressed concerns on how much they should be involved in the project.

Council in December approved hiring Deloitte, a multinational professional services network, for $197,500 plus taxes, to conduct a service delivery review. The total cost of the project was funded through a Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing grant.

During a one-hour workshop Monday, Deloitte representatives Tony Hamer, Sarah Ban and Matt Colley explained the scope of the project and answered questions from councillors.

The purpose of the project is to enhance the town’s fiscal responsibility, transparency and sustainability, modernize service delivery and improve service levels to allow the municipality to become more efficient, reduce future costs and meet the current and long-term needs of residents.

Colley and Hamer will lead the project along with the town’s senior management team members, while the town’s project liaison Bobbie-Jo Talarico and Deloitte’s Ban will be responsible for day-to-day project management.

By the end of the project in March, the consultants will prepare a report with recommendations that will focus on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of the town’s operations.

The project has six phases and includes analyzing current services, engaging with internal and external partners, identifying key gaps and how services can be delivered, presenting opportunities for improvement, estimating costs and making financial projections and preparing a final report.

Once council receives Deloitte’s report, any changes could realistically be implemented by 2022, Hamer told councillors.

“Three years is a good starting point. You do have to be looking at a little bit more long term, five or 10 years, but we also live in a world where council itself is on a four-year term,” Colley added. “Three years is long enough. You’ve got to be thinking in those increments in order to get what you need done during your term.”

During a committee of the whole planning meeting later that evening, Coun. Clare Cameron made a motion regarding the project.

The first part of the motion was to ask the consultant to facilitate engagement with local business owners, advisory committees, customer experience and technology committee, and members of the public.

The second part was to have Deloitte provide weekly updates through the councillors’ information package.

The third part was to receive a draft report before a final report is submitted to the council.

Cameron said she was concerned they would be left with a final report that councillors and community residents, whom council represents, wouldn’t be happy with.

“If there’s a gap that might be missed or subject area that’s getting missed, I think it’s very important that we have that draft in front of us to give that feedback,” she said.

Some councillors were divided on the motion, with Lord Mayor Betty Disero saying she wouldn’t support seeing a draft beforehand because she wants an “honest, objective” opinion of how the town provides its services.

“I would feel very robbed of my $200,000 if members of council start to pick and choose which parts of the report they like and what they want to change … I do not want to have it politically tainted beforehand.”

Couns. Gary Burroughs and Wendy Cheropita disagreed, saying councillors need to see the draft report. Coun. Norm Arsenault supported the lord mayor, saying there’s enough expertise among the town’s senior management team to run the show and councillors don’t need to be involved with the draft report. But he said he would support a motion to see weekly updates.

Coun. Allan Bisback warned councillors to be careful and asked them to trust the consultants.

“You can always be critical later if they don’t deliver it,” Bisback said. “But don’t try and tell them how to do their job every week.”

The discussion got a little heated when Cameron said it was unusual to see councillors slagging each other and she was “extremely dismayed” to hear insinuation from the lord mayor that members of the council might “be dishonest.”

At that point, Disero said she didn’t imply that anyone from council would do that but people might see it as “political background manoeuvring.”

“I’m trying to tell you, do not interfere with the report by the professionals because I think it’s inappropriate,” she said. “I don’t want members of council to feel that I’m pointing a finger at them. It is a general rule for council.”

Earlier during the workshop, Deloitte’s Colley said the firm will be able to attend council meetings to provide updates on the project.

“We are certainly happy to communicate as frequently as council requires,” he said. He also noted the consultants could provide a summary of key findings and, based on council’s feedback, finalize the draft report.

Two parts of Cameron’s motion – to include weekly updates in information report packages and to facilitate engagement – were approved by councillors. The third part, regarding a draft report, was defeated.

The formal decision still has to be made at council’s next meeting, on Feb. 24.

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