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Ontario Government Publishes Feedback from Asset Management Consultation

Ontario Government Publishes Feedback from Asset Management Consultation

In the summer of 2016, the Ontario government conducted a series of consultation sessions across the province to garner feedback on its proposed municipal asset management regulation. Ontario has been a trailblazer in supporting the advancement of asset management capacity at the local level, beginning with the launch of the Municipal Infrastructure Investment Initiative (MIII) in 2012. For the first time, Ontario's municipalities were expected to complete an asset management plan (AMP), with the province providing guidance - in the form of the Building Together Guide - and capacity building funds to assist local governments.

Since 2012, the province introduced and made permanent the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund (OCIF), providing formula-based funding annually to small, rural and northern municipalities to continue building their asset management capacity. Meanwhile, the federal government introduced new asset management requirements to the Federal Gas Tax Fund. In Ontario, municipalities are expected to update their 2013 AMPs - which were limited to core asset categories (water, wastewater, roads and bridges) - to include all asset categories. 
 
While these programs and funding initiatives have certainly helped Ontario's municipalities advance their knowledge and capacity in asset management planning, there is a growing concern that Ontario's local governments lack the resources to meet these compounding asset management requirements. For smaller municipalities, staff time is severely limited, and for larger communities, asset management practices are already entrenched in silos. The introduction of a new provincial regulation related to municipal asset management has the risk, if not done properly, of overextending many municipalities. Conversely, a sound regulation, built on a process of thorough consultation with municipalities, has the potential to help Ontario's communities navigate the complexity of asset management planning.
 
After hosting 9 regional consultation sessions throughout the province, in addition to launching an online consultation process, the Ontario government has published a summary of the feedback gathered regarding its proposed asset management regulation. Receiving more than 1,600 comments from diverse stakeholders, the province identified four main themes that emerged from the consultation: 
 
  • Municipal capacity and scale of challenges 
  • Need support from council and the public
  • Understanding service levels and the importance of good data
  • Importance of integrated asset management planning 
 

Municipal Capacity and Scale of Challenges 

Limited municipal capacity is a theme that emerges across most local government consultations. In the case of asset management, capacity challenges are front and centre. Through consultation, the province has heard from municipalities that phasing in regulatory requirements over time will help assuage capacity concerns. The consultation process also revealed the significant infrastructure challenge facing Ontario's municipalities. Sound asset management planning will help communities to improve their infrastructure programs moving forward, but the daunting infrastructure deficit created by decades of underinvestment and poor asset management practices will not disappear overnight. Northern communities in particular face shorter construction seasons and higher construction costs, creating additional challenges in asset management planning. Municipalities have reiterated the need for the province to recognize these structural challenges while drafting its asset management regulation. For more info on Ontario's municipal infrastructure deficit, refer to AMO's "The State of Ontario's Roads and Bridges" study completed by PSD in 2015. 
 

Need Support from Council and the Public

Participants in the province's consultation process emphasized the need for the asset management planning process to incorporate both council and the public. Council makes the final capital funding decisions for a community and the public ultimately decides if council made the "right decisions." It is up to staff to provide council and the public with the right information, presented in the best possible way, to secure early buy-in for proper asset management planning. Communicating to the public the cost of maintaining municipal assets is essential and something the province will need to consider while drafting its asset management regulation.
 

Understanding Service Levels and the Importance of Good Data

Although listed as secondary themes, the province has identified understanding service levels and improving the quality of asset data as two additional concerns raised through consultation. Municipalities struggle with mastering a good understanding of how their service levels impact their assets. Standardizing the list of metrics used to measure service levels across asset categories would help some municipalities, while others caution that not all metrics are relevant for all communities, with geography and population size creating too much variability. What is nearly ubiquitous for all municipalities is the challenge in collecting, maintaining, and making use of accurate asset data for better infrastructure planning. Municipalities will need additional support and guidance in order to advance their data analysis capabilities for better asset management. 

Importance of Integrated Asset Management Planning 

Another secondary theme that emerged from consultation was the need to link asset management plans to other municipal plans, including budgets. In order for AMPs to be implemented, financial planning should be woven into the process from the start. Likewise, in order to ensure that council buys into an asset management plan, it needs to be aligned with a community's strategic plan. Integrated asset management planning will need to be central to the province's new regulation. Furthermore, the province will need to ensure that its own regulation integrates with other provincial regulations and policies, taking into consideration existing deadlines and requirements squeezing municipal capacity throughout the year. 

 

When will the Regulation come into effect?

The Ontario government plans to post its draft asset management regulation to the Ontario Regulatory Registry in the coming months, providing another opportunity for stakeholders to share feedback. When the regulation will come into effect will depend on how long the province takes to post the draft and how much subsequent revision is needed after garnering further feedback. 
 
The full summary of consultation feedback can be found here. Please contact us if you have any questions about Bill 6 or the proposed regulation, and if you're looking for best practices in municipal asset management planning.