Cost Sharing Response to Mayor

On her Facebook page, Mayor Lowry raised some issues with my motion on the Recreation and Culture Cost Sharing with Carleton Place.

Mayor Lowry used the amounts only up to 2019 to show that we have given Carleton Place just under a million dollars: $925,069.00. I used more recent numbers up to the amount already approved for 2020 ($149,832), totalling $1,074,901.00 (the amount the Treasurer estimated for 2021 is $154,330 by the way).

Our numbers are both from the same source: the Mississippi Mills Treasurer. This table below is what the Treasurer sent to the Library Board earlier this year, as the Board prepared its budget proposal for 2021. I used these numbers for my chart assuming them to be correct, but with an estimate for 2021. The amounts that I used that are prior to 2016 came from previous budget documents.

2021 Proposed Cost Sharing Budget

The increase of “approximately $50,000″

The increase of “approximately $50,000″ that I referenced is the difference between Carleton Place’s 2021 request for $154,330 and the 2016 amount of $104,650.50. The difference is exactly $49,679.50. I rounded. If you use different parameters, you will get different numbers.

Basis for Cost Assessment

Right now, whatever Mississippi Mills pays is calculated using the higher property values (residential and commercial) in the areas around Carleton Place. The 2016 dwelling value average for that part of Mississippi Mills was $399,150, while the average value across Mississippi Mills was $380,403. The results are therefore skewed in favour of Carleton Place. With average 2015 household incomes of $121,608 and $128,968 in the two dissemination areas border Carleton Place, compared to $97,795 in Mississippi Mills generally, one could argue that these residents can afford a levy or increased user fees instead of passing the costs for this agreement to all of Mississippi Mills.

The Mayor noted some subdivisions around Carleton Place. She omitted those that “abut” Almonte’s “boundary seamlessly” such as Greystone Estates and Munro Meadows. Many Almonte residents do go to Carleton Place for all kinds of things, particularly grocery shopping, where there is more competition. But we do have a library and an arena. The most additional distance any “South Ramsay” resident would have to travel to Almonte’s library in preference to Carleton Place’s would be about 11 km, and most of the north half of South Ramsay residents are actually closer to Almonte.

Fear Factor

Mayor Lowry’s post insinuates legal action by Carleton Place (“Beyond being unneighbourly, Council may find there are legal ramifications to permanent decisions made without consulting the other two municipal parties”) and suggests there may be a withdrawal of the automatic aid fire services from Mississippi Mills, in vindictive retaliation I suppose. Not a worthy argument and not a comparable agreement.

I don’t believe that a court would rule that a municipal council has no authority or control over its own expenditures and that another municipality can stipulate via a formula unrelated to usage what it pays for residents to access facilities, forever. There is no exit clause, but there is no binding stipulation.

Contrary to her assertion, Council did have at least one opportunity to hear Howard Allan explain the cost sharing agreement: at our briefing and training in early 2019. Some of us also attended the first cost sharing meeting of this term, where Mr Allan went into more detail about the calculations. The previous Council also voiced its concerns to the parties in 2016.

Benefits and Costs

The benefit that Mayor Lowry ascribes to the 1419 residents of the two dissemination areas would amount to $106 per resident (using the 2019 amount of $149,832 divided by 1419) or about $272-$287 per household. Remember that while this is a special amount paid only because of these residents, it comes out of Mississippi Mills revenues. No other part of the municipality benefits in this way. Note that the Howard Allan agreement also includes the assessment of commercial properties.

The property assessments for residents of Greystone Estates are included in the calculation see the map below to give an idea of how far it extends: right up to Almonte (reference: Howard Allan Agreement Addendum of November 2000, page 12).

Almonte has sewer and water services that are not subsidized by ratepayers outside Almonte, and only service users pay for it. If the same approach was taken, Ramsay residents could continue to subsidize Carleton Place by using the Howard Allan method to pay for their preference of facilities via a levy without burdening the rest of the municipality. I would caution them to read the Howard Allan agreement first. Note that if you live just outside Almonte and are closer to Almonte recreation, we are assessed at 50%-60% on your behalf, the same as if you lived just outside Carleton Place. Commercial and farm properties add to the amount.

All of Mississippi Mills is assessed for a share of the pool, because:

“In terms of swimming pool services we have estimated the contribution rate to be 25% of the Town of Mississippi Mill’s (sic) weighted assessment. The reason for this is that swimming pool services should be available to all Mississippi Mills residents and therefore we feel that the scope of the participating assessment should not be limited to Ramsay Ward, as in the other two service areas.”

- Howard Allan Agreement Review November 2000, page 13

As noted, some people, including myself, have used the pool in Carleton Place. Other residents use pools in Arnprior, Ottawa and Perth. Only the Carleton Place pool is subsidized. Almonte and Ramsay also paid into its construction.

What would happen if we terminate?

It is important to remember that the resident location/property assessment issue is used only to determine what Mississippi Mills pays, not who pays. Then this cost is added to the budget and tax bill for all residents.

If Mississippi Mills terminates its agreement to pay, then all Mississippi Mills ratepayers, including the affected Ramsay residents, would see the money they have paid either eliminated or redirected towards Mississippi reserves or other items. Council needs to discuss this.

Carleton Place will then need to charge non-resident user fees and maybe higher fees to cover their costs. They will need to manage their own facilities at 100% if Beckwith also withdraws. Carleton Place residents may face a tax increase to cover their own facilities. If Mississippi residents prefer to continue the agreement, then an additional levy should be charged to ratepayers in the Howard Allan affected areas. The property values and household incomes in that area suggest that those residents “adjacent” to Carleton Place may be better able to afford such a levy.

It may be that Carleton Place might ban any users from their facilities, like Smiths Falls did recently to residents of Merrickville-Wolford who refused to pay Smiths Falls a share under a Howard Allan agreement. This is like “cutting off your nose to spite your face” in that the facility owner loses these revenues and it is nearly impossible to determine in the case of leagues or organizations.

The motion to terminate the Agreement cannot be unexpected to Carleton Place. The previous council gave notice in 2016 that it was unhappy with the agreement. Measures were taken then to try to bring the library “cost-sharing” into compliance with the law. Neither the former Library Board or the former council can irrevocably bind the present board and council. The agreement itself calls for review and admits its problems with subjectivity and lack of precedent. I am sure that Carleton Place council and residents would be sorry to see an end to the subsidy of their facilities. They would then be in our situation.

Mayor Lowry suggested that the first step should be to talk to Cost Sharing Committee. The mayor and CAO did that in 2016 and their request was defeated by that committee.

The way to bring up the issue is to make a motion and debate the merits. This keeps expenditure authority in our hands and does not delegate it to third parties to make our decisions. The service delivery review also raised a number of serious issues related to cost sharing and I will comment on those in another post. However, the mayor claimed that “Cost Sharing Agreement represents 4.1% of this total.” Actually, as verified by the Treasurer’s budget “pie” and the latest service delivery review, cost sharing is 4% of the Recreation budget and 8% of the Library budget:

2020 Recreation Budget Pie Cost sharing 4%- source : Treasurer
2020 Library Budget Pie cost sharing 8%- source: Treasurer

I encourage you to read the Howard Allan report and review for yourself, and look at the history. The rising property assessments on which this agreement is based escalate our costs in times like this, on depreciating facilities that have not even been open lately.

The bottom line in my opinion is that it does not make sense for residents to pay for the costs of a third library and a third arena when we have two of each of these facilities in the Municipality, and multiple choices for swimming beyond our borders. The costs of recreational choices should be borne by the chooser.

The Costs of “Sharing”

Cost “Sharing” Agreement: Carleton Place, Beckwith, Mississippi Mills

History and Library Issue

According to Mississippi Mills Treasurer Rhonda Whitmarsh in our budget documents, a cost “sharing” agreement was initiated in 1987 between the town of Carleton Place and the Township of Ramsay for recreational facilities. There was a separate one for pool use only between Almonte and Carleton Place. These were intended to contribute some of Ramsay’s money to Carleton Place for the construction and maintenance of several of CP’s recreational facilities that were used by some Ramsay residents living around Carleton Place’s borders from Appleton to the Scotch Line area. Sometimes a municipality will help fund recreational facilities when they do not have such facilities themselves:

“The Municipality currently has an agreement with the Town of Carleton Place and the Township of Beckwith for the sharing of costs for recreational and cultural services. The original agreement came into effect on September 28, 1987 between the Town of Carleton Place and the former Township of Ramsay. The former Town of Almonte also had a similar agreement, however, it was specific to use of the pool owned and operated by the Town of Carleton Place.”

- Budget Report, Special Council Agenda, December 11, 2018

According to the “Howard Allan Report” of April 16, 1987, the basis for the 1987 and ongoing agreement is “adjusted taxable property and business assessment.” While the report states that “the municipality in which the facility is located be responsible for the initial capital cost of the project but that a reserve fund be established to met future major repairs of the facility.”

In 1984 the current Public Libraries Act came into force. Under the Act, once a Library Board has been established by a municipal council, responsibility for determining library services falls to that Library Board. The 1987 Agreement should not have included library services, and certainly should not have included library services after amalgamation.

In 2002, the Ontario government provided this clarification:

“Can a municipality that has already established a library board, enter into a contract for library services with a neighbouring library board under the Municipal Act, 2001, s. 19 (1)(2) and receive provincial operating funding under the Public Libraries Act?

No.  Although the Municipal Act, 2001 may permit a municipality that has already established a library board to enter into a library services agreement with a neighbouring library board, such an arrangement would not be consistent with the provisions of the PLA. PLA s. 29(1) enables organizations such as the council of a municipality, a local service board or the council of an Indian band may, instead of establishing or maintaining a public library, enter into a contract with a public library board, union board or county library board for the purpose of providing the residents of the municipality or local service board area or the members of the band, as the case may be, with library services, on the terms and conditions set out in the agreement. 2002, c. 17, Sched. C, s. 24 (13); 2009, c. 33, Sched. 11, s. 7 (5).

Under the PLA, a municipality cannot enter into a agreement with a neighbouring library board for library service when it has already established a library board. Once library boards have been established, any agreement regarding library service must be between boards, and there is provision for such board-to-board cooperation under PLA clause 20 (2).”

- source: Southern Ontario Library Service

Note that the Carleton Place Library receives provincial funding on the same basis as Mississippi Mills.

The November 13, 2013 Parks and Recreation Master Plan, in its recommendations to review recreation agreements, said that Council reviews the Cost Sharing Agreement with Carleton Place and Beckwith annually. This has not been the case.

At the January 16, 2016 meeting of Council, then-CAO Diane Smithson presented two reports. Council mandated the CAO and Mayor to negotiate a fair and reciprocal Cost Sharing Agreement. The motion was as follows:

“Resolution No. 260-15
Moved by Councillor Lowry
Seconded by Councillor Wilkinson
BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council authorizes the Mayor and CAO to negotiate a fair and reciprocal Cost Sharing Agreement with Carleton Place, and
THAT the final costs to Mississippi Mills not exceed current value, and
THAT the agreement returns to Mississippi Mills Council for approval.

Councillor Lowry requested a recorded vote
Yeas - Councillors Abbott, Cameron, McCubbin, Torrance, Wilkinson, Mayor McLaughlin
Nays - Councillors Ferguson, Gillis, Lowry
(Councillor Edwards was absent)

CARRIED 6-3"

Thus armed, the former Mayor and CAO went to the “Recreation and Culture Cost Sharing Committee” meeting of January 13, 2016. Most of the rest of Mississippi Mills Council attended as observers. There are three participating communities – Carleton Place, Beckwith and Mississippi Mills – with representatives on this committee.

At that meeting, Howard Allan, the architect of the agreement, provided a review and said that it was last reviewed in 2001. A motion was put forward to retain Howard Allan at a cost of $500 per municipality to complete a review and make recommendations. The motion was defeated by members of the committee. The matter was then dropped.

Later that year, on November 30, 2016, the Mississippi Mills Library Board questioned the agreement; SOLS advisor Peggy Malcolm confirmed the Public Library Act provisions noted above and stated that if there was an agreement board to board, then such an Agreement would be in compliance with the Act and its powers and authorities. She provided a template agreement. Councillor John Edwards was in attendance and urged to Board to continue the present agreement. It seemed from the minutes that the libraries might establish a board-to-board agreement, but that didn’t happen.

At the February 21, 2020 meeting of the Mississippi Mills Library Board, Mayor Lowry and CAO Kelly sat in as observers for former board member Wendy Hansen’s presentation on the Cost Sharing Agreement. Mayor Lowry urged the Board to keep the agreement in place as it was “long-standing.”

The 2020 Mississippi Mills Library Board had sent a letter to the Mayor and Council urging them to extinguish the agreement. This letter was only put into the February 18, 2020 “Information List” of correspondence received. Chair Peacock reiterated the legal and fiscal reasons for urging that the contributions for the library be terminated. She noted that the contribution requests from the agreement for the Library alone have increased more than 30% since 2016. The MM Public Library Board supports “Reciprocal Sharing Agreements,” as do most libraries in the province.

“Reciprocal Sharing” agreements between municipalities allow residents of each community to borrow items freely at no additional costs. Mississippi Mills Public Library has such an agreement with Perth and discussed one with Arnprior. No money changes hands.

In 2016, the Library portion paid to Carleton Place was $46,141.50; the charge in 2020 was $59,974.00. This is an increase of 30% in only four years under the calculation. The request for 2021 is $61,775, which would represent an increase of 33%: one-third more in only 5 years.

Premise

The premise on which a cost sharing agreement is based is that a municipality which has facilities obtains some financial assistance from another that does not have them. A small municipality may not be able to afford facilities but can contribute so that their residents can use the facilities at the same rate as residents of the municipality that maintain the facility, rather than pay increased user fees. This was the original premise of the agreement that Ramsay had with the towns of Carleton Place and Almonte.

At the time of amalgamation, Mississippi Mills had – and continues to maintain – two arenas and two libraries, as well as a number of other fields, trails and recreational facilities. Yet we have contributed a significant amount to a third library and a third arena in Carleton Place, as well as other facilities, under the premise that some residents prefer to use ones that are closer (Beckwith does not have a library).

The arenas and sports fields cannot be based on usage or residency, because these users are primarily groups, organizations and leagues whose members may be from many areas.

As for the pool, Mississippi Mills does not have one. However, while some residents choose to use the Carleton Place Pool, others use pools in Ottawa and Arnprior. Yet all residents subsidize only one. This is not fair, and to subsidize all pools would be unsustainable. It is better in my view that users pay for their own choices of recreational locations, even if that means paying a non-resident fee.

When a consideration of basing payments on actual usage has arisen, Carleton Place has argued that tracking usage is too difficult. However, usage is only a red herring that perpetuates the idea of contributing costs to another municipality’s facilities at the expense of our own.

Smiths Falls and Perth have pursued cost sharing agreements with surrounding municipalities who do not have the facilities. There is strong opposition, and Smiths Falls in particular threatened to bar other residents from using the facilities, even if they pay non-resident rates.

The Howard Allan calculation is based on property values in and around Carleton Place, which is why the increases have greatly outstripped the rates of inflation and price indexes lately. It is not based on costs, distances or usage which might reasonably be expected to be factors. It is mainly based on property values.

It appears that part of the calculation of the required contribution for Carleton Place is the expenses minus the revenues. This removes any incentive on the recipient to control expenditures. One of the agreement’s rationalizations for Mississippi Mills’ contribution was that “Mississippi Mills is offering a choice of services to its ratepayers across the municipality.” This is demonstrably not true, when considering Pakenham ratepayers for example. The agreement generously points out that Pakenham residents may also use the Carleton Place pool, conveniently ignoring the significant differences in distance and the fact that many Pakenham and Ramsay residents use the Nick Smith complex pool in Arnprior. The calculation is so “complex”, factoring in mill rates, weighted values supposedly based on areas (not numbers of residents in the areas).

The distances for Ramsay residents to attend one facility or another is not significant (see distance comparisons chart). Nearly all Ramsay residents are closer to the Almonte or Pakenham libraries and arenas, than the Carleton Place or Beckwith facilities. Click on this table which looks at distances in Ramsay to the Almonte and Carleton Place libraries.

As far as “growth” being a driving factor, the official population of the two Mississippi Mills Census Dissemination Areas (CDAs) in Ramsay that border Carleton Place show that the population has been stagnant from the 2011 to the 2016 census: Mississippi Mills has grown by 6.3%, but the growth in the two areas bordering Carleton Place was only 0.5%. Click here to see the comparison.

The effect of this inequity has been that Mississippi Mills is subsidizing a third library and a third arena at the expense of its own. Mississippi Mills is in long term debt to cover upgrades to the Pakenham Library, the Stewart Community Centre, Gemmill Park and the roof of the Almonte Arena.

The calculations in the Howard Allan agreement are heavily weighted in favour of the recipient. For example, Carleton Place’s share of their own arena costs are attributed at only about 60% to their own ratepayers. In contrast, Mississippi Mills bears 100% of the cost of its own facilities and subsidizes Carleton Place. In 2015 and 2016, as noted above, the representatives of Carleton Place and Beckwith would not even consider negotiating a “fairer agreement” with Mississippi Mills, when costs for the library in Pakenham ($1M), Pakenham rink repairs ($1M), Almonte arena roof repairs ($300K) and Gemmill Park upgrades ($1M) were looming.

Howard Allan’s calculations are based on property values in and around Carleton Place. In the Census Dissemination Areas bordering Carleton Place, the property values are much higher in these two areas than in Mississippi Mills generally, to the greater benefit of Carleton Place (source: Statistics Canada).

The issue is further problematic in that both Carleton Place and the accountant have a pecuniary interest in preparing and benefiting from these reports. A bad deal for Mississippi Mills was never likely to be pointed out by either the cost sharing committee or the auditor.

Most seriously, the “agreement” abrogates the authority of Mississippi Mills Council and its ability to manage expenditures. It has been lodged with third parties that have not demonstrated a sense of economy, justice or concern for this municipality. The non-compliance with the Public Library Act means that Mississippi Mills should never have agreed to this, having appointed a Library Board and trying to maintain two libraries.

The agreement has never been reciprocal and is no longer fair, if it ever was. The premises on which it is calculated do not benefit the vast majority of residents; in fact, it can be argued that the redirection of a million dollars over the last 8 years has hurt our facilities, our staff resources and our residents.

Mississippi Mills expenditures in only the last 8 years – or two council terms – by item

Download this table:

I attended the first meeting of the Cost Sharing Committee during this Council’s term in Carleton Place (January 16, 2019). I asked the group if Carleton Place had a cost-sharing agreement with the City of Ottawa, as the city also borders it. I was told that the City was asked to contribute to one and refused. There is therefore no calculation and no “empty share” to account for those users. It would appear that Mississippi Mills is filling this void.

The agreement must be terminated immediately for the library as it contravenes the Public Library Act. With two libraries, there is no need for us to to subsidize a third. This subsidy represents 8% of our library’s budget (Strategy Corp). The same may be said for our two arenas, numerous sport fields, trails and other recreational facilities. The Carleton Place pool should be maintained by users in the broader area, and Carleton Place taxation. Subsidizing only the users who use that particular pool and not other pools is not fair.

It is recommended that council:
1) terminate the agreement and
2) have a discussion soon about what to do with the $150,000+ per year. I recommend that it be placed into recreational capital reserves, which have been depleted by the significant debt we face. As the Deputy Mayor noted and the Strategy Corp consultants confirmed on August 13, our current “reserves” are used as a downpayment to future projects and additional debt.

Motion regarding the Carleton Place Recreation and Culture Cost Sharing Agreement

Please share and provide me with your comments on this motion. Over the next few days, I will also post what I found on the costs and history of this agreement over the last 12 years. The agreement was started in 1987 to benefit Ramsay residents nearer to Carleton Place and continued past amalgamation in 1998. Most residents don’t know about this and when they do, they are concerned about funding a third arena and a third library. Stay tuned.

My motion:

WHEREAS Mississippi Mills maintains two libraries and two arenas as well as other cultural and recreational facilities, and

WHEREAS Mississippi Mills has contributed to the Carleton Place Culture and Recreation Cost Sharing Agreement since amalgamation for their library, pool and arena, with increases of 8%, 8.2%, 9.4% and 12% in the last four years, for an increase of approximately $50,000 from 2016 and totalling more than $1M in the last 8 years; and

WHEREAS the Province of Ontario has clarified that establishment of a library services agreement by a municipality for library services with another municipality when it has established its own Library Board is inconsistent with the Public Library Act; and

WHEREAS on February 18, 2020 the Mississippi Mills Public Library Board communicated its wish to terminate the Library “cost sharing” service agreement in preference to fiscally effective reciprocal sharing agreements with its neighbours; and

WHEREAS the premise for cost-sharing agreements are generally to support services in one municipality which another municipality does not have but uses exclusively, and

WHEREAS the cost-sharing agreement abrogates Council’s authority, control and management of its expenditures to third parties,

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that Mississippi Mills Council terminate the cost-sharing or “Howard Allan” Agreement effective immediately.”

– Verbal notice provided by Jan Maydan at the Committee of the Whole on Tuesday, August 11, 2020