As part of Minister Daniel Allain’s local government reform plan, commissions such as the South East Regional Service Commission (SERSC) will expand the number of services they provide, for which municipalities like the new town of Tantramar are required to pay.
Currently, the SERSC operates Eco360 and Plan360, handling garbage disposal and planning services for the municipalities in the region. But as of 2023, the commission will expand to include regional economic development, social and community development, regional transportation, tourism, and regional recreation infrastructure.
Earlier this month, Chief Financial Officer Stephanie Thorne presented the commission’s draft budget for 2023, including an additional $1.5 million "starter" allocation for the new mandated services. The Town of Tantramar portion of those costs will be about $59,000 in 2023, but that cost is expected to grow considerably in future, once the new services are defined and start to be delivered.
“It’s a prudent budget, we didn’t want to jump all in on the new mandated services,” Thorne told Sackville town council. “We really want to take this year to build strategies and figure out where the gaps are that we can fill.”
Unlike the town of Tantramar, where staff have provided information for, but not been involved in, the drafting of a 2023 budget for the amalgamated municipality, Thorne and the commission executive have written their own draft budget, to be approved by the province.
“As the province releases more information, this budget is likely to change slightly over the next couple of weeks,” said Thorne. “The board will not be approving this budget, the same as your council won’t be approving your budget. This will be presented by our facilitator to the minister and approved at that level.”
The most expensive new item is regional economic development, clocking in at $700,000 in mandated contributions from member municipalities. Tantramar’s share is just shy of $30,000. The existing economic development corporation for Moncton, Riverview and Dieppe, called 3+ Corporation, will be subsumed into a new organization to serve the entire southeast region, tentatively called Economic Development 360. Currently the three cities pay about $400,000 to run 3+ Corporation, and the SERSC prorated that across the larger region to come up with the total figure of $700,000. That amount includes hiring at least one director, and one consultant to help create the new organization.
The next highest new budget item for the commission is Social and Community Development, for which municipalities will contribute about half as much as they will for economic development. The total budget for Social and Community Development includes some existing grants, and comes to $460,000, with about $15,000 coming from Tantramar.
The commission will hire one director and two coordinators for social and community development, as well as a consultant to help it develop a strategy for 2024 and beyond.
Three more services will share a single new director to be hired in 2023: regional transportation, regional recreation infrastructure, and tourism. Tantramar’s contributions to all three add up to about $13,000.
All in all, the commission plans to hire three new directors at salaries of roughly $110,000 each, plus two new coordinators and one specialist. It will also spend about $160,000 on consultants to help with strategy development in 2023. It has already created a new CEO position and hired the former head of solid waste at Eco360, Roland Leblanc, to fill that role.
Gerard Belliveau is due to return to his role as executive director once he’s finished his work for the province as a facilitator for local government reform.
Steering committees to be appointed for new services
Thorne told council last week that the commission has been hosting working groups over the past few months to help come up with its budget.
“Our approach for the new mandated services was one of listening, rather than trying to jump in and figure it out all on our own, so we created working groups for each of the new services,” said Thorne. Those working groups included some Sackville town staff, such as special projects manager Kieran Miller, as well as representatives from other organizations and stakeholder groups. “We had over 100 meetings between May in June, which was a feat that none of us thought we could do. But we did it.”
“It was very eye opening to see groups that are working in the same sector who have never met before and have never talked,” said Thorne. “So duplication of services was happening.”
Thorne didn’t provide examples of duplicated services, but did acknowledge that in many cases the commission need not reinvent the wheel. ”What came out of those meetings was a lot of suggestions on how we can approach this,” said Thorne. “We really need to build on the existing assets, because great work is being done by so many different groups.”
Thorne said the commission would establish steering committees for each new service, and a “baseline of what needs to happen across each service.”
Thorne said the commission has identified major issues that are “in crisis mode right now,” such as the workforce, homelessness and affordable housing. “So the commission is working, even now, to start getting those in place, even though the mandate doesn’t start until January 1.”
A number of councillors had questions for Thorne after her presentation, including Sabine Dietz who said she was surprised at the small size of the $1.5 million budget for the five new mandated services. “I’m assuming that this will only increase over time,” said Dietz.
Thorne agreed. “We really wanted to put the work in to make sure that we’re not just asking members for a bunch of money right off, when we don’t know what we’re going to do with it… We can take the year to really build a strategy, and the 2024 budget will look much different from this,” said Thorne.
Dietz also asked about representation on the various steering committees that will be overseeing the new services. Thorne said the steering committees had not yet been formed and the board of the SERSC would decide who to included. Thorne mentioned stakeholders, “from industry, from the community, not-for-profit groups, from our staff, and then I’m sure that we will reach out to any staff members within the municipalities that may be vital,” said Thorne.
“The staff will be absolutely informed, but with your mayor sitting on the board, that’s where the decision making comes in,” said Thorne.
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