Opinion

The success of shared services

The City of Nelson has connected with many other local governments, the province and different agencies over the years to provide better service and cost savings. - Bob Hall photo
The City of Nelson has connected with many other local governments, the province and different agencies over the years to provide better service and cost savings.
— image credit: Bob Hall photo

In order to contain costs and provide better service to citizens, the City of Nelson is teaming up to tackle the challenges facing local governments today and tomorrow. For a number of years now, Nelson city council has endeavored to increase its cooperation with local, provincial and federal levels of government by sharing services and programs relating to transit, parks, education, waste management, communication, technology, recreation, economic development, seniors housing and health. These efforts are saving taxpayers money and improving inter-governmental efficiencies. The shared services created are enjoyed and utilized by thousands of citizens not only in Nelson, but throughout our neighboring communities.

The City has a long history of working with other public sector bodies with the latest success story on the shared-services front just last week. As part of the efforts to contain the rising costs of technology, last Friday a fibre optics line was “lit up” between City Hall, the Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) offices on Lakeside Drive, and the Nelson and District Community Complex thereby improving Information Technology (IT) connectivity and reliability between a number of critical facilities.

And there’s much more to come.

With the help of the Columbia Basin Trust, the cities of Nelson and Trail are working with the RDCK and the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) on ways to share more IT resources, standardize software; again looking to reduce or contain costs. The first IT pilot project the parties have agreed upon is a common regional disaster recovery system. The CBT will be hiring a consultant to recommend a common system to all West Kootenay local governments.

The new fibre optics connection follows a number of other shared service success stories. Folks will recall that this past fall the RDCK, RDKB and the City of Nelson came together to develop a regional transit plan that will better integrate services throughout the West Kootenays, reduce the cost of delivery and make better use of the transit fleet. Yet another first. Starting way back in 2000, Nelson and its rural area partners E and F shared in the capital cost of building the Lakeside Park playing fields. That debt has been paid off, and the parties have now agreed to share in the ongoing maintenance of the playing fields and the Queen Elizabeth ball field. Yet another example of cost sharing was when the rural areas F and H began contributing to City of Nelson library services in 2011.

The City has also found avenues to share services with Selkirk College. The College has leased its 10th Street Campus from the City since the mid 90s. In 1999, the strong relationship between the two parties resulted in the City’s decision to put up money for major renovations to the campus. Those funds are being repaid by the college. The City was also an instrumental partner in the recent renovations of the new student residences and Studio 80 (known as the Shambhala Music and Performance Hall).

Looking further up the government ladder, back in 2003 the City of Nelson embarked on a shared services model with the provincial government when the City purchased 310 Ward Street — the so-called White Building. This project allowed the City and ServiceBC to share the main floor of the building to offer better service to residents — essentially providing a one-stop-shop model for government services while also helping to reduce their environmental footprint by sharing a common lobby, staff room, meeting rooms, etc.

There are a great number of opportunities for further cooperation on the horizon which could further improve services to citizens and the effective use of your tax dollars.  Could the one-stop-shop concept already in place at 310 Ward Street be expanded to include other local government services? Could equipment, purchasing and staff be shared more effectively between local governments? These are important questions we will continue to ask.  With local governments being challenged to provide even better services with the same amount of tax revenues, partnerships of all shapes and sizes are critical as we move forward.

The government challenges of today and tomorrow are real and significant, but based on the success of numerous shared service projects the City and its neighbours have already experienced,  it’s clear the lessons of co-operation have been well-learned and well-earned — all part of strengthening our relationships and building an even stronger foundation for the future.

John Dooley is the mayor of Nelson. He shares this space with his colleagues around the council table on Wednesdays.

 

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