County council formalized an economic development position and collaborative procurement as its first steps toward improving operations as recommended by a service delivery review.

Council discussed the review at a special meeting Jan. 13. All members agreed to include an economic development position in this year’s budget and to begin work on collaborative procurement later this year.

The initiatives are just two of the 12 overarching areas addressed by consultant StrategyCorp in the review to improve collaboration, efficiency and realize more than $1 million in potential cash flow improvements. Council also agreed to work through the other recommendations slowly at its future meetings.

“I know that this has been a difficult one,” Warden Liz Danielsen said. “But I think we’ve come to some agreement about how we’re going to approach this a bit at a time, in a reasonable fashion that works for everybody.”

StrategyCorp recommended the County hire an economic development officer this year, with an estimated upfront cost of $200,000 annually. It also suggested starting collaborative procurement – joint purchasing of goods and services by the County and its lower-tier municipalities – with estimated savings between $372,000 and $1,193,000 annually once implemented.

Coun. Brent Devolin said it made sense to move on procurement early.

“That’s some of the savings that fund and helps some of the things that will come in subsequent years,” Devolin said.

“It’s a real area of need for the County,” CAO Mike Rutter said. “No one (on staff) has that expertise. They’re not a purchasing expert. That would be really helpful for us.”

But these only represent two of the six initiatives StrategyCorp suggested to start in 2021. The others were communications, waste management, roads and co-ordination. Council directed staff to bring back more information about implementing those and other recommendations at a future meeting.

Danielsen said ongoing discussions will be needed, adding better communication is important.

“We’re not good at communicating with each other,” she said. “We have discussions at the County council and quite often the information just stays here. It doesn’t go back to the lower-tiers.”

However, Devolin said live-streamed meetings make it easier for lower-tier councillors to access. Although the County may yet move on other initiatives, deputy warden Patrick Kennedy cautioned to not overload staff.

“I’m just so worried about our staff, about burning them out,” Kennedy said. “If it takes an extra year, I don’t care.”

“We definitely need to agree on an approach and what those, maybe one or two low-hanging fruit pieces are,” he said. “That aren’t going to create a massive workload for any specific individual.”

Kennedy praised council for getting through the meeting.

“I’m just so proud of this group,” Kennedy said. “We’ve made some pretty big decisions and I’m just so thrilled to be part of it.”

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