by Robin Sukhu

On Aug 13th there was a Special Committee of the Whole to receive the Service Delivery Review report produced by the consulting firm Strategy Corp.

Here is the picture that is on the front cover of that report:

A report on the current state kicking off with an outdated picture; not a good start but I continued to review the entire document.  What I describe here are some of the things that I thought noteworthy.

In the Executive Summary on page 8 the first “Key takeway” identifies high debt as an issue.   On page 36 of the report there is the following on Debt Service Coverage:

According to Strategy Corp’s data, debt service coverage is above the target of greater than or equal to 2 for every year shown.

In the Aug 13 meeting, the Strategy Corp presenter at the 9:40 mark stated, “Compared to ministry requirements – financial positions are strong and trending in the right direction”.  And, on page 9 of the document, an identified strength is our financial stability “Mississippi Mills is trending towards fiscal health and meets the majority of MMAH’s targets for key financial indicators”.

At the Council Meeting on June 16, 2020 the chartered accountants report on Mississippi Mills audited financials stated that we are in good shape with respect to Municipal Debt and surplus and reserves have gone up steadily for the past 5 years.  You can hear this yourself by going to the 8:26 min and 14:25 min mark in the audio of that meeting (here is a link to that audio: https://missmills.ca/AudioRecording/ShowAudioWithComments/5 )

I have difficulty resolving these contradictory statements on our debt.  The data tells me that there isn’t a problem, but the executive summary of the document identifies high debt as a problem.

One last point on our debt load. I recall the previous council trying to explain that we had some unusual expenses in 2016 but that their plan would show improvements by 2020 – this is exactly what this report shows.  The report documents that our fiscal house is in order and that the projections of the previous council were pretty much correct.

The Strategy Corp’s report mentions a Service Delivery Review completed by Blackline Consulting in 2018.  But wait, here we are in 2020 and we have a new Service Delivery Review being conducted by a different set of consultants.  What happened to the 2018 Service Delivery Review and why do we need a new one two years later?

The report identified a problem between staff and council, it said, “Both staff and Council identified the critical need for continuous improvement in their collaboration, openness, and trust It is felt that staff morale is low and there is a general lack of interest in people’s progress”.

Is it really a surprise that staff morale is low?  Most of our senior staff have quit or been fired.  Before the last election, an anonymous letter was sent targeting senior staff.  Much of what was outlined in that letter has come to pass.   Read the article in the Millstone on this topic https://millstonenews.com/councillors-comment-on-anonymous-letter-to-town-staff/

My overwhelming feeling as I read this report is that it is full of badly written flowery language that says close to nothing.  For example,

Mississippi Mills has developed and is about to consult on an externally-focused strategic plan, complete with vision and value statements and commitments to develop a series of other supporting plans (human resources, community engagement, digital, economic development etc.). The Municipality would benefit from greater internal collaboration and resourcing in the implementation of this plan, and all enterprise-wide strategies, to build trust and buy-in across the organization, guide department level planning, and ensure measurable progress toward achieving the Municipality’s goals

Does that make sense to you? I have read that paragraph at least 10 times and it is still not clear to me.  It is just a stream of words that sound impressive.  I found an on-line tool that does something similar; you may find it humourous https://www.atrixnet.com/bs-generator.html

The report observed that occasionally some “… documents have at times been developed out of sequence (e.g. the financial plan vis-à-vis the asset management plan), undermining the coordination and cohesiveness of organization-wide planning”.  An excellent point and I wonder if the authors also noted that the Service Delivery Review is taking place before we produce a Strategic Plan.

The report is not completely without merit.  The information presented in the Appendices is good value.