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?
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!