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County Council discusses Joint City County Shared Services Committee

CouncilCounty Council discusses Joint City County Shared Services Committee

County of Brant Council voted to propose a shorter list of priorities for the Joint City County Shared Services Committee to focus on at the time during its regular council meeting on Tuesday, March 26, 2024.

Back in September of 2023, the Councils of the City of Brantford and the County of Brant adopted resolutions to re-establish the Joint City-County Shared Services Committee (JCCSSC).

The purpose of the committee is to investigate and collaborate on opportunities for both municipalities to make improvements, find efficiencies and implement strategies to improve service delivery and possible tax levy savings for constituents.

Both Chief Administrative Officers (CAO) for the City and the County, alongside their senior leadership teams, identified the following list of potential shared service areas to be further explored by the JCCSSC including:

A) Animal Control

B) Automated Speed Enforcement

C) Household Hazardous Waste

D) IT Security and Services

E) Organics

F) Shared Procurement

G) Sport and Recreation Facilities

H) Transit

I) Transportation

During the inaugural JCCSSC meeting held on October 30, 2023, the Committee resolved to add three additional priorities to the list including: Physician Recruitment, the Municipal Airport and shared interests including tourism, events, and economic development. The CAO’s were again directed to return to the committee with a timeline for review and recommendations for the list.

During Tuesday’s Council meeting, Alison Newton, Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) for the County of Brant, came back to Council to discuss the list of priorities through the lens of the County and requested that Council provide direction on how to proceed before sending the report off to the JCCSSC.

“At our last meeting, there was direction for me to look into the 12 items which were shortlisted by the JCCSSC at our initial meeting,” she said. “I have gone back and looked at those only through the lens of our Staff and our resources, so this is just from the County point of view and this is without benefit of collaboration with the City. Looking for direction tonight, I’ve grouped the 12 initiatives, actually 13 because I am suggesting one additional which is that Intimate Partner Violence be referred to the JCCSSC for discussion.”

Newton split the 12 initiatives into three groups:

Group A referred to initiatives (household hazardous waste, organics, public transit and transportation) that should be removed from the list of priorities for the JCCSSSC as they have already been initiated and are being worked on by both County and City staff together.

Group B included three initiatives (Shared Interests: tourism, events and economic development, sport and recreation facilities, and the recently added Intimate Partner and Gender Based Violence) that are valid areas for potential joint ventures, but that still require further discussion.

Lastly, Group C touched on areas (animal control, automated speed enforcement, IT security and services, physician recruitment, shared procurement and municipal airport) where given the County’s resources, budget and constraints, that they could not achieve any efficiencies at this time.

“It doesn’t mean that they can’t be brought forward at a later date, but I don’t believe there are efficiencies at this time to be had, and or there are insufficient resources among staff to delve into these further,” said Newton.

She also noted that there are areas such as the municipal airport, where the City is further along and has done significantly more work in the past year than the County. She suggested that it may be more efficient if the City put forward a proposal to the County rather than have it be examined through the JCCSSC.

Councillor John Bell said that as far as automated speed enforcement being in Group C, he was struggling to understand why as both the City and County must be struggling with the same issues.

“You’re correct, and perhaps I should have provided more information on that. We actually are exploring that as a joint venture so theoretically it could have gone in Group A also,” responded Newton. “However, my point here is that it’s potentially going to be involving other municipalities and until that determination has been made, I didn’t want to bring it through Joint Services because this is something that may involve other municipalities besides Brantford.”

Councillor Robert Chambers expressed concerns about the purpose of the committee if items such as hazardous household waste, organics and public transport are already being handled from City to County staff.

“It would seem to me that the way to get things done is staff to staff …I’m wondering what the purpose of this committee is,” said Chambers. “Is it a public relations thing where we just join hands and kumbaya with the City and let staff do what they do? Or can we as a council, just direct staff to contact their staff and work on something?”

Newton said that while there is a history of making things work between the two municipalities without a joint committee, the intent is to see if there are other opportunities to work together.

“What I do want to stress to this Council is that there are very limited resources within the County right now to take on additional work, so I approached it maybe a little bit differently than the City and their CAO had envisioned. That is not to judge the merit or not of any of these items, it’s more to look at it through the lens of what our resources are, and what we can practically actually accomplish this year,” she said. “I believe that looking at a shorter list of items with a much more limited scope, would allow us to develop some goodwill and trust on this committee, as well, maybe some process where we could maybe look at other initiatives. That being said, were the committee not there, would staff stop speaking to each other and trying to find efficiencies? No, I don’t think that would happen.”

Chambers noted that while he didn’t want to be the one to pull the plug on the JCCSSC, he would likely support it if someone else was feeling the same way and proposed it.

Councillor Lukas Oakley said that he could see where Chambers was coming from, but that for himself, while yes there’s a public relations aspect to the matter, it’s also about strategic conversation and that he wasn’t willing to pull the plug on the committee so soon.

“Sure, Staff will have organic conversations as it comes up on how to collaborate, but without those sorts of strategic conversations, things may get missed, or it may take longer to do,” he said. “To have this conversation when we’ve had one committee meeting, I think is premature. If this was a year or two in and things weren’t moving, as quickly as they are now or if it slowed things down, then that’s the type of time to have a conversation. …So, let’s just see where this goes, and if it’s a waste of time in a year, then we can all say it’s a waste of time.”

Newton said that while she didn’t want to speak on behalf of the City, she didn’t think they had any intention of pulling the plug on the committee from their end.

Bell said that perhaps, the one reason why they should have the committee is to discuss the hospital.

“I think many of us have now made the tour of the General Hospital, and last week, we all came away really concerned,” he said. “The concern I have is amplified by the fact that we seem to be traveling a different route from the other municipal funder, the City, and their public pronouncements are different from the ones that we’re making. Their thinking behind how we get the province to give us enough money to build a hospital is different. …I’d be happy just to talk to that one item and see whether we can make progress on something really important to our collective communities and if we can’t get that right collectively, then we’re not going to get very far.”

Chambers agreed that if the JCCSSC were only discussing the hospital and letting everything else be handled Staff to Staff, he would be happy to continue on with the committee.

Mayor David Bailey asked if the joint committee was really the place to be discussing the hospital, or if they should be talking to the hospital board.

“If we went to the committee, with five of us and five of them, and one of them asked any one of us what is the County’s position on the Brantford General Hospital? What would the answer be? We would all have an answer, but the County doesn’t have a position, councillors have position,” he said. “So is it the purpose of the committee to collectively arrive at a position? That’s not the venue for the County to arrive at a position. We may have the same desire, but I’m not sure that we do. …The joint committee dealing with things is problematic and it’s confusing, and sometimes it can cause more trouble than it’s worth.”

Councillor Jennifer Kyle then added her thoughts with respect to the committee and the hospital specifically. 

“I think what I’m hearing is, one of the biggest concerns is that our messaging versus the City messaging, they’re very off base, as far as what they’re saying and what we’re saying,” she said. “Presenting a united front to other levels of government might be appropriate, so perhaps that’s a specific topic that we could refer to our Government Relations Committee to sit down with a smaller group of folks from the City and have a discussion about the how we want to advocate together for the funds we need for the hospital, separately from how we individually, as municipalities, are going to come up with our portion.”

Councillor Steve Howes suggested that they should stay on track with Newton’s recommendation.

“​​We do have an opportunity to do some good for our community within some of these categories,” he said. “Where I was trying to bring us back to, is our staff, particularly our CAO, has put significant time into delivering a report with recommendations and I think that deserves our response. I think we need to kind of stay on track. The recommendations, as outlined, look good to me and I respect our CAO’s opinion and vision on this but I do agree that the future of the BGH needs to appear on some list.”

Newton then said that she was simply looking for more direction and how to draft a second report for the JCCSSC.

“What I’m looking for tonight, is some direction on how I craft a second report. So the idea being and how our terms of our friends were reframed, is that a report would be sent from myself, given Council’s direction to the JCCSSC,” she said. “So if that is the council’s will, whether it includes the hospital or not, I would prefer you would provide me that direction tonight, and I will create a report that will then be sent to that committee. So depending on what councils will, that’s what I will do, and whatever you want that content to include, again, I’ve made my recommendations, if you want to add things to that, I certainly can.”

The vote to remove Group A from the mandate of the JCCSSC, recommend timelines for items in Group B (amended to include the hospital), and that Council recommend postponing scheduling of items in Group C, carried on a vote eight to one, noting that Councillor Christine Garneau and John Pierce were not present for the meeting.

As part of the vote, staff were directed to prepare the new report and forward it to JCCSSC.

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