United Counties of SDG turns up volume in services dispute with City of Cornwall

United Counties of SDG headquarters on Pitt Street, Cornwall. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

Nelson Zandbergen
Nation Valley News

CORNWALL — Disgruntled Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry politicians have escalated their shared-services dispute with the City of Cornwall, issuing an open letter yesterday that takes aim at the city’s continued refusal to update their old shared services agreement.

The missive lays bare the frustrations of SDG representatives over the city’s unwillingness to add third-party arbitration to the agreement covering land ambulance, social services, child care and provincial offences administration.

Addressed to Cornwall Mayor Leslie O’Shaughnessy and city council, the letter is signed by all 12 members of County Council, including Warden Jim Bancroft of South Stormont.

According to Bancroft, binding arbitration is the one key change in the proposed agreement SDG has been pushing the city to ratify — without success — for the last three years. It does not propose changing any of the current cost-sharing splits now in place for the various services, Bancroft told Nation Valley News.

“We’re not saying we’re being short-changed,” the Warden said, though he conceded the need for “some discussion” in future on how costs for provincial offences are divided in particular. “Provincial offences is out of balance.”

The city, he said, refuses to accept third-party binding arbitration going forward, the crux of the proposed agreement now stuck in limbo.

The letter appears below.

Dear Mayor O’Shaughnessy and members of City Council:

We are writing this letter to you today to express our frustration with the current state of shared services between our municipalities.

By way of history, in the late 1990’s, the County and City were forced by the provincial government to share a variety of services, including land ambulance, social services, child care and provincial offences administration. These services were not devolved at the same time, and consequently interim agreements were put in place incrementally to guide the transition and apportion costs between the parties. Those interim agreements are now largely obsolete. Furthermore, the cost sharing formulas developed during the time of transition have never been reviewed or amended.

The City delivers land ambulance, social services (including social housing), and child care to SDG residents while SDG delivers provincial offences administration on behalf of City residents. For context, in 2016, the County transferred over $7M to the City to deliver services to SDG residents. Provincial offences administration is a revenue generating service for both parties.

Recognizing the inadequacy and obsolescence of the transition and cost sharing agreements, in 2014/2015 the Shared Services or Joint Liaison Committee (comprised of elected representatives from the City and County) embarked on a process to develop a consolidated and modern shared services agreement, one that would serve as a blueprint for better cooperation, coordination, and service delivery between the parties.

Subsequent to the approval of a new shared services agreement, it was envisioned that the Committee would tackle the issue of cost sharing, to ensure that all formulas (there is one formula for each shared service) are fair and reflective of current conditions.

As a starting point, the City engaged the firm of KPMG to complete a comprehensive shared services review report. The final report provided an overview of current conditions, a comparative analysis of shared service agreements between other Ontario Counties and separated municipalities, areas of focus for a shared services agreement, and a summary of comparator agreements. This document was used by City and County officials as a base to develop a draft shared services agreement, of which there have been several iterations.

Unfortunately, City Council has not ratified a new agreement, and the process is now stalled. We understand the reason that the City has not ratified the agreement is because it is not in agreement with the inclusion of a dispute resolution clause which includes the right of either party to arbitrate if necessary.

This is frustrating and disappointing to the County, as the right of parties to arbitrate is a universally accepted concept designed to protect the interests of each party in the event that a dispute cannot be settled directly or through mediation. The City’s position is contrary to many other shared services arrangements in place between Ontario Counties and the separated cities with whom they share services.

The City appears to have taken the stance that the decisions it makes regarding how it delivers services to SDG residents should be beyond challenge to a neutral third party. The County rejects this stance and welcomes the ability of both parties to arbitrate in instances where discussion or mediation cannot resolve a problem. The County demonstrated its commitment to transparency and fairness in the summer of 2016, when a new provincial offence inter-municipal service agreement, including a robust dispute resolution clause, was approved by the County, the City and all local SDG municipalities. POA administration is the responsibility of the County.

The County was surprised recently to learn that City Council had asked seniorstaff to bring forward a report regarding the potential to share other municipal services with both local SDG municipalities and the County.

The County would only consider participating in such discussions in the event that a new agreement is reached regarding the services currently shared.

We believe that a modernized shared services agreement will allow the City and County, via the Shared Services or Joint Liaison Committee, to more actively and transparently work together as true partners in the delivery of essential services to residents of our region. We believe there is currently an imbalance which must be addressed.

While it remains our hope that the County can renew its partnership with the City, we will review all possible service delivery alternatives to ensure the most effective delivery model for our residents.

Respectfully,

The letter concludes with the signatures of all County Council representatives — who conduct their meetings in Cornwall.