THE FUTURE OF INTERMUNICIPAL RELATIONS PART 2
As municipal needs and scope of work continue to evolve, and expectations placed upon municipal governments change in kind, Council Members and Senior Administration are required to adjust to a changing landscape in real time, while getting ahead of anticipated future changes. Simultaneously, growing pressures from various stakeholders — including residents, businesses and industry, other orders of government, etc. — require expanded capacity with a demand for restricted cost increases.
Intermunicipal approaches to local and regional issues have much to offer in terms of increasing capacity and capability, without resulting in increased taxes or costs. In Part 1 of this exploration, we delved into the potential of approaching certain whole municipal departments on a regional scale rather than on a municipality-by-municipality basis. While there are cost savings, efficiencies and best practices to be gleamed from such innovation, there are numerous other areas into which regional collaboration can be expanded.
One such area is that of environmental stewardship and the adoption of green initiatives. It’s no secret that public pressures have been increasing steadily for governments of all orders to take on such projects, whether by citizens and voters, by industry and business, by environmental shifts, or simply by grant opportunities. The push for environmental sustainability and green energy is here to stay and will likely only increase over the years to come.
It’s common practice already for municipalities to share certain infrastructure resources for increased capacity and to leverage economies of scale. Often, these intermunicipal efforts take the form of regional water/wastewater commissions, for example, or regional landfills. Further, there are often efforts made for shared infrastructure that isn’t within the full scope of local government, but to which local government has a responsibility; for example, municipalities may form an association relating to a provincial highway that passes through shared local boundaries.
Those instances aside, there should be more efforts made in sharing public-use resources. As a case study of sorts, let’s consider a shared greenspace between two municipalities. As it stands, there are currently two parks within the greenspace, an invisible line separating the two — each under a different name, and each the responsibility of its own municipality. Surely, there are efforts in maintenance where areas of overlap could prove cost effective. The overall idea that invisible lines separate one tree from another is outdated.
In this scenario, both municipalities would be better served by hosting a regional park under one name, with one shared approach, and pooled funding with contributions based on percentage of land contained within each municipality (not by service necessary within the regional park). The ensuing positive outcomes in committing to regional recreation goals, for example — and thereby installing rec opportunities throughout the shared green space — are astronomical. Bureaucracy aside, there is benefit in taking a “kumbaya” approach to these sorts of endeavours.
Additionally, there are dollars to be secured in environmentally progressive initiatives that extend far beyond the scope of simple green spaces. Grants have popped up consistently from higher orders of government; the federal government, for instance, has offered numerous green funding opportunities — many of which carry at least some requirement for regional efforts to be made for funding to be secured.
There are countless potential initiatives that could fit under this umbrella. Teaming up on an intermunicipal basis to retrofit public infrastructure to LEED standards, for example, would result in shared regional sustainability. Such an approach is then likely to result in regional opportunities for economic development and growth potential. The same can be said for sharing a solar panel farm between municipalities, with partners in the endeavour then sharing in the energy generated. Such initiatives can then be further used as means of providing public education, with an eye on partnering with local school divisions, for example, to increase youth knowledge and involvement. Point being, there are numerous wholesome advantages to taking on such an initiative, contributing to community well-being, as well as intermunicipal relations and local sustainability.
On a smaller scale, as many municipalities have been working to adopt more electric vehicles to their municipal fleet or transit system, for instance, it would make sense for a multi-municipal approach to purchasing vehicles and installing the necessary infrastructure related to electric vehicles, such as charging stations. Extended opportunities exist in then putting in place comparable infrastructure for public use, relaying to increased overall community sustainability.
Opportunity leads to more opportunity, creating a system for long-term improvements and regional benefits, while many shared green initiatives would see immediate benefits through economies of scale and jobs creation.
As more is expected from municipalities, local governments must be proactive in meeting expanding needs. By getting ahead of environmental trends and shifts, while doing so in an economically prudent and efficient manner — and in a way that folds in further economic and livability opportunity — municipalities will cement themselves as self-sustaining and forward thinking.
You can find me at Ben@strategicsteps.ca. The company’s Twitter profile is @strategic_steps.