5 IDEAS IN 5 DAYS, THURSDAY: Koombayah. How we can better cooperate with our neighbouring communities, save money and increase services
To switch things up tonight, and keep it interesting (are you still reading these long daily posts?), let’s start the fourth idea in five day with a song lyric.
“The sun went down on the Macdonald Bridge, I found you carrots in my fridge,” – Old Man Luedeke.
As you likely know, I spent the first 18 years of my life in Nova Scotia, primarily in Dartmouth (On the east side of the Macdonald Bridge), with a lot of summer time at our cottage near Lunenburg. In Nova Scotia, bonds run deep, hundreds of years deep. My mothers and father’s families coincidentally enough both came across from France to Lunenburg in the same year, possibly on the same ship in 1749. What got them by 250 plus years ago, was working together, as much for food and shelter as for fun. That kind of long engrained interdependence breeds friendships deep, and allowed them to prosper together, where they would struggle alone. To the lyric, I heard someone say once, several years after I had moved out west, but was back visiting, that “To know a friend is to know what’s in their fridge.”
Indeed knowing what is in our neighbour’s fridges, as well as what’s in our owns means we can share between us to prosper together, rather than struggle alone.
Ok. Let’s bring it all back to reality a little bit now.
What I’m getting at of course is the less than cooperative or collaborative relationships Rossland is in with our neighbouring communities, and in particular between ourselves and Trail. Let’s not throw any blame or hard feelings gas onto that fire.
Amalgamation gets talked about in varying levels of popularity or interest levels, I would guess at almost every election back into history. I’m not a believer in amalgamation, at least not at this time for the region. I’ve talked about why not in the past, but in this context, you simply can’t marry everything at once, if we are already struggling on a number of fronts to make cooperative regional decisions. I’m saying let’s start piece by piece, and actively seek out areas where there are opportunities to work together to benefit all sides with lower costs, and potentially increasing service levels.
There is a beautiful model of how to do this unfolding just to our North whereby The City of Nelson has just entered into a fee for service agreement with three surrounding municipalities including Slocan, Salmo and Silverton. (See the link at the bottom of this post for the press release) Each of those agreements will see City of Nelson staff provide monthly and annual accounting services and budgetary planning assistance to the villages — efforts that will be of considerable benefit to the three of them, and The City of Nelson as well.
Nelson Mayor John Dooley says the arrangement will give Salmo, Slocan and Silverton access to the City’s considerable financial expertise and resources, and all at a very affordable rate.
“We’re very pleased to be partnering with these three fellow Central Kootenay municipalities,” says Mayor Dooley. “These agreements validate our on-going efforts to work side-by-side with all our regional partners and create efficiencies, which is a great use of tax payers’ dollars.”
Nelson gets increased revenue and the smaller communities get a professional service at a significant savings from hiring their own CFO, and the City of Nelson can increase their capacity without additional cost, increasing their service levels.
Starting with staff and service sharing is likely the easiest place to start at our end of the valley. If you can set yourself up as the municipality offering the service to the others, that is the ideal place to be. At the same time if you’re the one paying a fee for the service, you’re still doing better, as you get the service you need at a lower cost.
So where do we start?
The first step would be to float the general idea to the other municipalities in the area, show them the Nelson model and suggest we could do something similar. If they agreed in principle, each municipality should go back and look at their staffing scenario, future staff needs, and the services they are offering. Through the process, they should look to identify areas where there is a service they are particularly good at, and have or could add excess capacity. At the same time each municipality should identify the areas where they are not particularly great at offering certain service, or don’t have enough work to keep that employee busy.
From there it’s a lot like kids trading hockey cards, with a little got-em, got-em, need-em.
Let’s say each municipality came back with 3 to 5 things on each side of the equation where they could offer, and where they would like to buy. Match them together and see if there are areas where it naturally line up that X community is good at, and has capacity in area A, and Y community is weak at and can’t support a position in area A.
Presuming there are some matches, you move those along and do some modelling of the financials and see, “Hey would this actually save some money and still get us at least the same service that we have now?” If yes, negotiate the numbers that work for both sides and make it happen.
What I like about this is that it’s not the typical regional negotiations/arguments where one community feels like they are putting in more than they are getting back. In this case you simply see if there are areas that could work, and if the numbers make sense the both sides benefit, than you go forward. It’s getting to know what’s in your neighbour’s fridge, being OK with them having their carrots in your fridge, and forming collaborative/ cooperative agreements that save money and increase service levels for both sides, in the areas that are the easiest to make happen.
Staffing is likely the easiest place to get started, but it’s not the only place. As I mentioned at the All Candidates Forum, you could move this same model into equipment and vehicles. An example could be where Rossland may not need its own chipper all the time, but Trail has one that they also don’t use all the time. You set in place a negotiated deal where you share equipment back and forth, and do so at cost. We don’t need to be profiting off of one another at that level. As long as the costs are covered, sharing in that scenario is a cost savings for the renting community, and helps pay a portion of the capital cost of the equipment for the renter. Conversely, where Rossland has a fairly new camel truck, that has excess capacity, if and when Trail needs the additional capacity, you have a pre-negotiated agreement, where Trail can rent that equipment/ service at cost. Trail saves money, not having to outlay the capital for a second truck, but still gets the service as if they had two, for the occasional times they need it. Rossland is able to use that revenue to cover a portion of the capital costs of their equipment, allowing Rossland to afford having equipment, we otherwise would struggle to pay off and replace alone.
The process would probably start slow. What it would really take is finding the best match of that process that is the simplest to implement, with the least amount of dollars going back and forth, and start with that. Start with the one that you know you can knock out of the park. Set the tone that this can work early, and the motivation to find and implement more will be well received.
Over time if it all goes, well, the end result looks very much like the benefits of amalgamation that are talked about, without actually having to do an official amalgamation, ensuring each community still has direct say and control over their own town.
That to me seems like a situation where we at the very least there are no losers, and likely there will be winners. It’s a situation where no one wins, unless we win together. That’s a much different way of coming at these regional agreements than bringing your toughest game face and trying to get the best deal possible for your municipality. It requires cooperation and collaboration to work, it has the potential to maintain and increase service levels, while reducing costs, and comes with a side benefit of increased relations with our neighbouring communities.
With two new mayors coming in Rossland and Trail, and potentially quite a few new councillors coming into the mix, there has never been a better time to change the rules of engagement, and start working and playing together, so that we can all move forward and prosper together.
Andrew Zwicker is a candidate for Rossland City Council.