AUGUST COUNCIL UPDATE
This is a brief update on Midland
Council’s August meeting. As the municipal election (October 27th) draws
nearer, Councillors are becoming more focused on that. The result was a
lengthy Agenda that Council was able to complete in just over four hours with
less wrangling and hostility than at many other meetings during this Council’s
Council heard an insightful
deputation from Doug Campbell who addressed the “tiered-response system"
for emergency services. This is a voluntary dispatching protocol where
police, fire and paramedic EMS are all dispatched to the same medical call.
Mr. Campbell’s submission pointed out how this voluntary practice not
only wastes resources but also ironically increases EMS average response times
- likely harming patient outcomes. He added that fire-related duties are
only 3% of our Fire Department’s work and medical calls represent by far the
largest number of responses.
To that we can add a couple facts.
Even with all the non-fire responses, Midland Fire still averages less
than 1 call every 8 hours. Some people say “well if we’re paying them to
sit around the fire hall anyway, they might as well go out to medical calls.”
But if they are limited in their first aid capability, can not transport
patients and potentially harm patient outcomes, we might all be much better off
to have them do something else instead or to change our fire
There is a growing chorus of voices
that we are not getting fair value for the money we spend on specialized
emergency services. Mr. Campbell’s concerns need to be followed-up.
Cost is not a reliable indicator of value in public services. You
do not always get more just because you pay more and it is possible to reduce
costs without reducing services. Midland Community will continue to
examine other models and options for providing the emergency services we all
Council considered a report from the
Treasurer (deferred from the July meeting) in which he proposed modifications
to several Town policies. Council adopted all but two which it held for
further consideration at a future meeting. Council had concerns about the
sheer number of reserve funds Midland has – 45 according to the Treasurer that
are not mandatory but maintained by choice. The other item held for
future consideration involved communications from midlandcommunity.ca member
George Dixon expressing, among other things, his concerns that Midland’s
practices in place for many years around budget surpluses do not comply with
the Municipal Act.
MIDLAND PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMISSION
Council considered a report from the Treasurer that
recommended Council formally ask the Midland Public Utilities Commission (MPUC)
to increase its payments to the Town by increasing its debt to 60% from current
and projected levels in the 45-49% range. The recommendation lost on a
tied 4 – 4 vote. MPUC is a corporation fully owned by the Town of
Midland. Its rates are regulated by the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) and
MPUC pays an annual dividend to the Town.
Basically the proposal is for MPUC to incur several million
dollars in additional borrowing over the next few years in order to pay the
same amount to the Town over the same period. The only ‘real’ overall benefit
to Midland taxpayers (who are also MPUC’s customers) would be income tax
savings for MPUC because the interest MPUC pays on its debt is tax-deductible.
We will carry out a thorough analysis of the pros and cons of this proposal
the next time this item returns to a public agenda.
This will not be the last word on
this subject or other matters involving the Town and MPUC. KPMG
identified sizable cost savings opportunities in excess of $1 million by
consolidating administrative functions at the MPUC and the Town. None of these
have yet been realized.
A few brief comments before leaving
this subject for now. We pay all the bills and it does us no good if we
are only watching a shell game where one government increases its revenues at
the cost of another agency of the very same government. This can be
especially dangerous if our Town has in mind it can temporarily increase the
revenue it shows on its books in order to keep tax increases artificially low
and avoid pressure to actually reduce the costs that have led to Midland’s high
taxes. Governments often focus too much on looking good and not enough on
Friction between the Town and this
Town agency does not help any of us any more than friction between the Town and
our Police Services Board. We end up footing the bill for all the
squabbling and noise while important issues are not dealt with
Finally, in a small twist of irony,
Council decided at the same meeting it should not borrow to fund the Unimin
purchase but self-finance it for now from our accumulated reserves.
We are pleased to report Council
completed the process of unwinding a decision it made previously to institute a
mandatory septic system inspection program. That program far exceeded the
mandatory system that was just put in place by the Ontario government to
protect the Georgian Bay and Lake Simcoe watersheds. Congratulations to
all Councillors for recognizing any benefit one hopes to achieve by additional
regulation has to be weighed not only against the direct costs to governments
but also against the costs to the economy as a whole. And for recognizing
that bragging rights for being at the leading edge of septic inspections,
backflow prevention or other doubtful regulatory schemes are never worth the
public costs. George Dixon for midlandcommunity.ca