In February, we shared the story of Dr. Rosalin Miles and her experience as a new Band Administrator negotiating the MTSA process. She gave some great insights into what First Nation Band Administrators should know before reviewing their service agreements. This month, we take a different approach: thinking from your service provider’s perspective. We did some digging and found five things municipalities think about when considering service agreements. Knowing what your service partner’s needs and concerns are can help frame a more positive conversation about services, and clarify some common misunderstandings around service agreements.
- Long range planning is key to sharing services. Can a municipality provide services beyond their boundary? Most likely, it depends on whether or not they planned for it. Municipalities develop long-range planning documents called Official Community Plans (OCPs) which outline how land will be used and where growth will occur. Supporting the OCP are master plans for each of their main services. These documents can cover decades but are usually updated every five years or so. If a municipality has not anticipated providing services beyond its boundaries in the OCP or servicing master plans, it is unlikely that they have the capacity to add neighbouring communities to their system.
What does this mean for First Nation partners? If your First Nation is thinking about services and the needs of your community are changing, talk to your service partner or potential service partner! This is especially true if you know that your service partner is in the process of updating their OCP or servicing master plans. Starting these conversations early can ensure that the service provider can anticipate your Nation’s need as they plan their systems.
On the other side of things, if your First Nation is working on its own land use planning, make sure to think about what services will be needed to meet the needs of growth on reserve. Engaging your service partner during the land use planning process can help ensure that growth in your community is met with adequate services.
- Current versus future capacity. Sometimes it looks like a municipality has capacity in their system for additional users but new service agreements still require infrastructure upgrades. This is because that capacity may have been built to service growth within the municipal boundary. The community has invested in and built infrastructure to service development that may not come for years. Even though there may be capacity in the short-term, adding too many additional users while growth is expected can put the system at risk over the long term.
- Partnership is about more than just service agreements. You don’t need a service agreement to work with local government neighbours or benefit from knowledge sharing. Most municipalities have full-time staff with a ton of knowledge and expertise in operating infrastructure. If your First Nation needs support, there may be opportunities to collaborate on operations and maintenance even if service agreements are not in place. This could help provide valuable training and knowledge sharing between municipal and First Nation staff. It can also lay the groundwork for future collaboration and service agreements.
- Recovering costs is important to municipalities. Costs for providing utilities such as water and sewer are paid for through user fees and other cost recovery mechanisms. Prudent municipalities will aim to recover the full cost of the service through these fees, or through mechanisms for recovering costs from growth. For example, if a developer is building a new subdivision, there will be a need to build expensive infrastructure to provide services to new homes. Municipalities can use a type of fee called Development Cost Charges (DCCs) to fund the new infrastructure. However, in the case of extending services beyond the municipal boundary, a municipality cannot use these familiar tools for recovering costs. If infrastructure upgrades are required to extend services to a First Nation, the service partners will have to negotiate how these costs are paid for.
- First Nation control over land use. Service agreements can sometimes seem strict. Some First Nations may feel that their service partner is trying to control where and how fast they grow. However, the primary issue for municipalities is the need to have certainty over where services are being delivered. Connected to our first point, municipalities plan land use and services far in advance. They don’t like surprises! Unpredictable development and growth can make your service partner nervous because they have to ensure their infrastructure has the capacity to take on each new connection. These concerns show how necessary it is to have regular conversations about growth and development. If a new development may impact service infrastructure, share this information early on. If your First Nation is uncertain about growth, or finds it hard to plan or predict land uses, consider this uncertainty in your service agreement. Being upfront about these concerns can go a long way in coming to an agreement that works for both service partners.
MTSAs are complex and require significant collaboration between First Nation and municipal partners. In this blog post, we consider five things that municipalities are thinking about. Are there other things you’d like to know about your service partner’s perspective in MTSAs? Ask us through Facebook or Twitter!
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Over the past year, we’ve shared weekly stories of First Nations collaboration with local governments. While focused on MTSAs, these stories cover a broad range of topics related to work between First Nations and municipalities. Cooperation and partnerships can bring many rewards, but also come with challenges. We’ve rounded up four of our favourite stories of the past year.
- Westbank First Nation and West Kelowna
Service agreements can support strong partnerships. This is definitely true in the case of Westbank First Nation and West Kelowna. In 2016, the two governments renewed their fire agreement for another 15 years. Long-term agreements provide benefits to both parties, including peace-of-mind that a service will be provided over the long term, sharing costs, building trust, and offering mutual support.
Fires are unpredictable and can spread quickly. A strong fire agreement is about more than service delivery. As Mayor Findlater said, “West Kelowna’s fire protection is enhanced through planning, training, and coordination with WFN [Westbank First Nation], particularly on forest fires, which don’t recognize boundaries.”.
- Tla’amin First Nation and City of Powell River
In 2016, Tla’amin First Nation became a self-governing nation. The provisions of the new treaty included a larger land base, funding, and a number of economic development opportunities. The First Nation’s long-term goals are closely tied to its collaboration with its closest neighbour, the City of Powell River.
Tla’amin First Nation and the City of Powell River have a strong working relationship, but it wasn’t always this way. More than 15 years ago, a dispute arose after the City work on a sea walk damaged Tla’amin heritage sites. However, rather than pushing the two apart, this conflict prompted the two governments to starting talking and begin working together as partners in developing the sea walk. In 2003, Tla’amin First Nation and the City of Powell River signed a community accord. They have been working together every since.
- Urban Reserves
Urban reserves have been in the news frequently over the past year. Stories of First Nations working towards developing urban reserves popped up all over Canada, including Rolling River First Nation in Headingley, Manitoba and Kawacatoose First Nation in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. In Western Canada, Enoch First Nation recently reached a milestone, signing an agreement with the City of Edmonton to work together over the long term. The agreement is a commitment of leadership within Enoch First Nation and the City of Edmonton to meet at least once a year and collaborate on a joint working group. This brings the First Nation closer to achieving its goal of purchasing City land for to develop an urban reserve.
- Local Governments Working Towards Reconciliation
2017 has been declared a year of reconciliation. Municipalities across the country are making efforts to build bridges with their neighbouring First Nations. Recently, the City of Markham signed a partnership accord with Eabametoong First Nation. The agreement promotes social, cultural, and economic collaboration between the First Nation and local government.
Collaboration between First Nations and local governments takes many forms. The stories highlighted in this blog show just a glimpse into the many ways that communities can work together.
Do you have a story of First Nation-local government collaboration? Please share it with us through Facebook or Twitter!
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Developing and reviewing municipal type service agreements can be an overwhelming experience and the process can raise many important questions, such as:
- How are services delivered?
- What are my community’s obligations?
- What are the obligations of our partner municipality?
- Are the rates we pay fair?
- What is the service area?
Just to name a few! The goal of Pathways to Service Delivery is to make the process of developing and reviewing municipal type service agreements more manageable and effective. As part of this goal, we are always looking for stories from communities across BC and Canada about MTSAs and the process of developing them.
Dr. Rosalin Miles
Recently, we had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Rosalin Miles who jumped into the role of First Nation Administrator for Lytton First Nation in 2016. Shortly after starting her new role, Rosalin initiated a review of her community’s MTSAs. As part of our conversation, she shared some of her insights into the process and provided a few words of advice to new (and long-standing) First Nation Administrators undergoing the process of reviewing or developing MTSAs.
First of all, we wanted to know, what motivated Rosalin to review Lytton First Nation’s service agreements with their neighbour, the Village of Lytton? Every community has a unique set of circumstances and Lytton First Nation is no different. Rosalin reported that several interconnected events prompted Lytton First Nation to consider reviewing their existing service agreements:
- Potential capital investment: The Village of Lytton is planning on building a new water treatment centre and Lytton First Nation is considering providing a capital contribution. This opened the door to reviewing the existing water service agreement in light of possible investment by the First Nation.
- Expiring agreements: Lytton First Nation’s previous MTSAs used relatively short terms. This meant that the First Nation and Village had to renegotiate every year or two to ensure that the agreements were up to date.
- New First Nation Administrator: Stepping into the role in 2016, Rosalin wanted to learn as much as she could about service delivery to the First Nation’s reserves. Reviewing the service agreements gave her the opportunity to delve deeply and ensure she knew the ins and outs of how things were done.
As part of the process, Rosalin and the Urban Systems team used the MTSA Assessment Tool to review each service agreement. We wanted to know if the tool was helpful and how she used it during the review process.
Rosalin told us she loved having a step-by-step framework to evaluate her community’s service agreements. The tool helped identify what kind of information needed to be collected to help with the negotiation and decision-making process. It also helped her set service levels based on community needs rather than just repeating past service agreements.
Going into the process, Rosalin worried that there was a “right” and “wrong” answer to each part of a service agreement. Instead, the Tool helped her understand that each component of a service agreement was unique to the First Nation and municipal partner, based on the needs and resources of the two communities. The Assessment Tool offered examples for a range of goals that were helpful in establishing priorities in the new service agreements. Two examples were really important for Lytton First Nation:
- Previous service agreements didn’t include a termination clause. Using the Tool prompted questions about what the First Nation would do if service level targets weren’t met, what they would do if they wanted a change in the way services were delivered, and how long they would need to find a new service provider if an agreement was cancelled.
- Service areas were identified but clear expectations were undefined in previous agreements. The Tool provided suggestions for how an agreement could be structured to achieve the desired level of service in a well-defined service area.
Discussing the process of reviewing service agreements, Rosalin had some insights into what First Nation Administrators should think about when starting their own reviews:
Get ready for some prep work:
- Before starting the process, take time to gather all the relevant service agreements.
- Review your partner municipality’s bylaws that lay out relevant information such as user rates, service levels, and regulations.
- Communicate to your partner municipality that your community would like to review service agreements. From the start, let them know that this is a learning experience and that the goal is collaboration, not criticism.
- First Nations have unique capacity challenges. To make the most of the agreements, get to know what your partner municipality is able to offer and the level of service received by off-reserve households.
- Know that rates are negotiable. Be prepared to review and compare the rate charged to the level of service provided and the rate paid by non-reserve households.
- Be prepared for each community to have expectations, whether around costs, level of investment, or service levels.
- Expectations on both the First Nation and municipal side must be managed.
Think about the future:
- Ultimately, the First Nation and municipality are partners in a larger community. Consider how agreements support the sustainability of both communities.
- Recognize that the First Nation is its own government—benefits and resources should be distributed equally between members of both communities.
- Think about what you want your relationship to be in the future and lay the groundwork.
- Connect service agreements with goals in your Comprehensive Community Plan for long-term community development.
- Identify ways that your First Nation can help your partner municipality—for example, through capital cost contributions.
Thanks Rosalin for your insights!
Preparing to negotiate a service agreement with your neighbouring community can seem like an intimidating task for any First Nation. You may have read in a previous blog post, ‘Knowing Your Municipal Service Needs…And What’s Possible’, that the best place to start is by identifying exactly what it is your community needs.
Once you’ve determined your needs, the next step is understanding what it might cost to provide the service you need before sitting down with your neighbouring municipality. Preparing yourself with this information will create a more open and informed negotiation process. The Pathways to Service Delivery website contains various resource tools to assist First Nations and municipalities through the negotiating process, including a cost calculator.
The cost calculator is an interactive Excel based tool developed to highlight information about the costs of services, such as water and sewer. While the cost calculator will not provide you with the exact rate, it acts more like a tool for discussion purposes with your neighbouring municipality, to better understand what goes into determining the rate.
Excel Cost Calculator
The cost calculator is not only a great tool for First Nations preparing to negotiate a service agreement for the first time but also those First Nations with existing service agreement that are nearing their expiration date.
How exactly does it work?
The cost calculator supports the user in thinking about what a fair rate might be for providing a service to their location. It assists in estimating how much the First Nation might pay annually for services and based on the annual estimated cost, how much of that cost is eligible to receive funding from INAC and how much would need to be funded through other sources of revenue. To determine these costs, the cost calculator relies on information about rates in the neighboring community and helps the user compare rates and levels of service.
The cost calculator includes three services, all which are eligible for funding through INAC. These include water, sewer, and fire protection. Because fire protection varies so much from community to community, the calculator provides a range of average rates per household. This can be used to give people an idea of how their rate compares with rates in other communities. Also, from time to time, service agreements might cover a full bundle of services. Some of these services may already be provided by the First Nation, in which case it may be fair to apply a credit of up to 100% for that service. The cost calculator helps the user review different services that are often included in a service bundle and consider which ones might receive a credit and why.
For the cost calculator to work, you’ll first need to identify and provide some basic information including, the municipal rate for the service, the number of member homes, and the number or non-member homes who will receive service. For water and sewer, you can identify municipal water rates by looking at the Water and Sewer Bylaw of your neighbouring municipality. This bylaw is publically available information and should be accessible through the municipality’s website.
By inputting these values, the pre-formatted Excel sheet will display estimated rate for how much your First Nation might pay annually for services, how much of that cost is eligible to receive funding from INAC and how much would need to be funded by your community through other sources of revenue.
Now – let’s go through an example, looking at what BC First Nation, a fictional community, might pay for water through their neighbouring municipality, BC Town.
The Administrator from BC First Nation has already gone onto BC Town’s website to find their municipal water rate.
Looking at BC Town’s water user fees, the Administrator can see the Town charges a fixed rate only and has no volume rate. This varies from community to community with some municipalities only charging a fixed rate, while others use a combination of a fixed rate and volume rate.
The Administrator has taken the municipal water rate and the number of member and non-member homes and entered it into the cost calculator. Because a service agreement is not yet in place, simply enter the same rate you entered for the municipal water rate and the calculator will provide an initial estimate based on the rates in BC Town.
From there, the Administrator is able to better understand what it might cost to provide water to their members through a service agreement with BC Town annually ($81,316.44) if rates were the same as in BC Town, as well as how much of that annual cost would be covered through INAC funding ($60,211.01) and how much the First Nation would need to pay for themselves through other sources of revenues ($21,105.43).
The Administrator of BC First Nation knows that the service agreement with BC Town will not include operations and maintenance of infrastructure on reserve, so the rate that is paid for on-reserve service through the service agreement may be less than what is paid by customers of BC Town off-reserve.
The Administrator can now go into discussions with BC Town with a baseline of costs that can be discussed with BC Town, to get a better understanding of what will be included in the rate and how it will compare to the rate being paid in the Town.