Excessive reporting demanded by Queen’s Park is proving increasingly time-consuming for Ontario’s municipalities, which are chafing under the unnecessary paperwork.
An Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario (AMCTO) report, entitled Bearing the Burden: An Overview of Municipal Reporting to the Province, explains creating and maintaining various mandatory reports to the province is a significant financial and productivity drain.
AMCTO consulted with government professionals through a sector-wide survey of more than 300 municipal managers. While most of them said they believe reporting is important, 75 per cent said provincial reporting is “too time consuming and onerous.” Nearly half of respondents (48 per cent) said the provincial reporting requirements are affecting their ability to offer municipal services.
Some municipalities must file less than 90 reports annually, while others are responsible for more than 200.
Woolwich Township director of finance Richard Petherick says he’s felt the strain himself in his department.
Two of the easier reports they’re required to complete annually are one on council remuneration and another on what they spent on development charges.
“The one that we do that is a lot more involved and it takes a long time to do, it’s what they call the financial information return. So it’s essentially taking everything that we have recorded from our assets, our liabilities, revenue, expenses, on everything that we do. It has to be done in the Ministry of Municipal Affairs template,” Petherick explained of some of the paperwork involved.
He says this requires a very involved spreadsheet you have to do which takes months to complete because of the level of detail. And in 2009 when municipalities had to start recording their tangible capital assets, that was another level they had to report on, which is now becoming part of the financial information return as well.
“The good thing is you can say, especially for Woolwich, you can match up what’s in our financial information return to our audited statements and we do that on purpose. It’s not unlike other municipalities, they do the same thing. It’s an easy reconciliation between the two, but to get to that level of detail it’s a lot of work on our staff to get it done,” Petherick said.
He notes there’s plenty of other work they’d rather be doing than filling out reports, but from his perspective he understands why the province makes these reports mandatory.
“There has to be that accountability to the province, at least from the financial end of things. One of the things that also has to happen in order to have your financial information return accepted by the province, it meets a bunch of balances and checks in the system, so if you’re missing information and things don’t balance, it basically won’t let you file it. It’ll say ‘nope, you’ve got critical errors, you can’t do it.’ But it also has to be signed off by the township’s auditor.”
Time spent on reports like these could be used for other projects that could make things more efficient for the department, like finishing the update to the township’s asset management plan, which is currently underway.