Municipal control or an alternative delivery method? This is the question that has intrigued all levels of local government and created intense debates between taxpayers across municipalities. The services that municipalities provide are often vital to the existence of a local area. The issues of accountability, cost savings, quality of service and democracy often arise when choosing the best options to deliver services to a municipal area. In recent years the concepts of privatization, alternative service delivery and public-private partnerships are often promoted as ways cut down on overburdened annual city budgets and promote a higher quality of service to citizens. Municipalities have historically always provided basic services such as fire protection, water purification/treatment and recreational facilities. However, would private companies or another municipality be able to better deliver the same services more efficiently or at a lower cost? The city or town often provides a political grass roots approach to most local problems. Municipalities are better positioned and have a wider scope to provide services to their constituents in order to ensure quality of service that does not erode accountability and transparency, or drive the municipality deeper into debt.
The new public management states that, “cities are growing more and more like corporations referring to citizens as customers in the sense that they are providing product or goods (services) to the customer (taxpayers).” This had led to an increased demand for better quality at the lowest cost to the taxpayer. When looking at cost saving and alternative delivery municipalities must make a hard decision when choosing to contract out essential services.
An example arises from the municipality of Thorold. Thorold is a small municipality in the Niagara Region with a population of 18,000. Recently this year the city council paid for a Fire Services review to be done of the municipality’s fire and emergency services. The city is split in half by the Welland Canal that runs through the region, meaning that the city is broken up into 4 fire districts providing fire coverage for the downtown district, east and west sides of the canal and a smaller hamlet of Port Robinson in the south end. To add to the geographical divide Thorold has a divided workforce in a composite fire department made up of 20 fulltime firefighters and 110 volunteer/part time. The city council and the taxpayers in Thorold are faced with $3.2 million dollars in operating and administrative costs annually to its fire service. These costs are much higher than other municipalities in the region with a similar population. “The fire review was done to measure cost savings for the city and to improve the quality of the service overall.”
There were several options provided to council that included closing stations and contracting the service out to Thorold’s neighbour St. Catharines. “Under these models St. Catharines...