The Municipal Sustainability Self-Assessment (MSSA) project was one of Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador’s (MNL) tent pole projects of the first decade of the new millennium. Constructed and conducted over a four-year period (2005-2009), it was the first time municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador sat down with an outside representative to assess their capacity, assets, and weaknesses.
To provide a true assessment of the state of municipalities in the Province, MNL thought it prudent to establish a self-assessment project with a wide scope. The questionnaire, which composed the bulk of the toolkit, prodded all areas of municipal government from service delivery, to staff, to municipal democracy, and inter-municipal cooperation. We were cognizant of the fact that these questions may make some municipal leaders uneasy and that the results may be depressing, but we also expected that many municipalities would be thankful to be given the opportunity for self-reflection.
The MSSA project was an unqualified success. Of the 281 municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador, 250 of them participated in the project, each meeting with a project team member to go question by question through the toolkit. As was expected, the results showed mixed results with municipalities providing positive results in the areas of governing and administration, but were largely weak in the realm of financial viability and infrastructure maintenance and improvement. Regardless of the results, the MSSA project is a success because municipalities now have a better understanding of their sustainability, assets, and needs; the information garnered from this project can serve as a baseline against which each municipality can gauge their progress. From an organizational perspective, MNL is now in possession of this information and it will help us better serve our members. The information from the MSSA project, in combination with the results from the Municipal Census and Councillor Survey conducted by MNL in 2007, has made MNL the preeminent repository for knowledge of municipal government in Newfoundland and Labrador. The MSSA represents MNL’s largest, but by no means last, attempt to lead purposeful research on municipal government in the province.
The MSSA project also benefited from fortunate timing. As a required component of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Gas Tax Agreement, every municipality in Newfoundland and Labrador is required to complete and Integrated Community Sustainability Plan (ICSP) by the end of March 2010. Given that most municipalities in the province operate with one full-time staff member, the ability for municipalities to create an in-depth sustainability plan seemed remote; most municipalities would not even know where to begin. To assist municipalities, the provincial government and MNL touted the MSSA as being the first step in the ICSP process. In the countdown to March 2010, scores of municipalities and consultants have contacted MNL over the past months seeking their MSSA reports and spreadsheets containing answers.
Attaching the MSSA project to the ICSP process made this large project feasible. MNL had to almost double its paid staff for several months in 2008 to conduct the survey. Without generous funding from the provincial government this extra staffing could never happen. Newfoundland and Labrador is a large province with hundreds of small, geographically remote municipalities. As a result, achieving community cooperation and arranging meeting times with councilors and staff is a difficult and time-consuming process. It is a credit to the MSSA staff that they were able to solicit cooperation and meet with 90% of the province’s municipalities.
The information garnered from the toolkit that follows is, and will be, a tremendous benefit to Newfoundland and Labrador. As well, the MSSA will serve as a template for all future assessment guides and a model for how municipal consultations should be pursued.
For a copy of the Self-Assessment Toolkit, please click HERE
, and for a copy of the Final Report, please click HERE