Sandy Casselman 
Villager Staff

EMBRUN – The township of Russell has been approved for more than $100,000 in provincial funding through the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH)’s Municipal Modernization Program (MMP) – Phase 2 funding stream.

Local politicians received the update during the Aug. 9 council meeting. In a report prepared by assistant-treasurer Lucille Bazinet, council was updated on the three approved projects and what staff plan to do for each. Russell’s municipal representatives were asked to confirm the scope set for each project.

“The township is eligible to receive an allocation of $100,000 for the township of Russell Municipal Services Review funded at 100 per cent by the grant, and $9,750 for the township of Russell Electronic Signature Management, and $5,005 for the township of Russell Geographic Information System for Asset Inventory,” Bazinet said in her report.

While funding for the first project covers the entirety of that project, the final two will see only 65 per cent of the overall cost covered by the grant. Bazinet noted that the township’s 35 per cent will come from the efficiency grant reserve, which currently has an unallocated amount of $234,349 prior to the financing of these two projects.

“In 2019, the Ford government launched the MMP to help small and rural municipalities modernize service delivery and identify new ways to be more efficient and effective,” MMAH Minister Steve Clark said in his grant approval acknowledgement letter to Mayor Pierre Leroux. “The impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak have made this work more important than ever. The projects selected for funding under the second intake of the Municipal Modernization Program will further support municipalities’ efforts to implement efficiencies, with a focus on digital modernization, service integration, streamlining development approvals, and alternative service delivery.”

The implementation deadline for the first project is Nov. 30 of this year, but director of finance and treasurer Richard Godin said he is currently in talks with the province about an extension, as it’s not enough time to complete the project. The other two projects must be completed by September 2022.

Councillor Mike Tarnowski expressed concern for the tight deadline and the potential implications should Russell not be able to complete things by Nov. 30.

Godin said staff is waiting for an answer from the province on the potential deadline extension before moving forward.

“I’m confident we can work with the ministry to work this out,” Godin said.

In addition to providing council with the updated information, Godin said the other goal of the report was to determine where politicians sat in terms of the scope of the project currently set by staff.

Bazinet’s report noted the following key elements: inclusion of all departments at a high level, a benchmarking analysis comparing Russell with similar municipalities, process mapping of 10 to 12 key processes, identification of both strategic and operational opportunities for change, and additional recommendations for potential next phases.

Leroux asked if it would be advantageous to broaden the scope of the first project to include next phases now and potentially save money in the long-term. Coun. Jamie Laurin agreed, noting that any potential to do more now at a savings should be considered.

“We’ve had some general discussions that could be reflected in an RFP (request for proposal),” CAO Jean Leduc said. “There could be some savings there, but not knowing exactly where council wants to dive or where we do either, [we should] review first.”

Leroux said he understood the caution. He said he is open to the administration moving forward at the pace they prefer. The Transfer Payment Agreement, which was unavailable Aug. 9, will be presented to council at a future meeting, along with the accompanying by-law.