As hoped for, the city this week released the request for proposal (RFP) for the delivery of the EarlyON program in St. Thomas and Elgin county.
While it provides some insight and clarification on the new direction, there are questions and concerns on the part of the city, based on the two-page addendum that accompanies the RFP document.
The preamble notes, “The City of St. Thomas is issuing this Request for Proposal (RFP) to seek successful proponents who will operate EarlyON Child and Family Centres in St. Thomas and Elgin County.
“For the purposes of the delivery of EarlyON Child and Family Centre programs and services, three distinct Service Delivery Zones have been created: West, Central and East.”
The document goes on to note, “The successful proponents will leverage and build upon established partnerships and in-depth knowledge of the communities of St. Thomas and Elgin County to deliver programs and services that are inclusive, innovative and of high quality. Collaboration among Service Delivery Zones will ensure a consistent approach to service delivery across the system of EarlyON Child and Family Centre programs and services.”
You would have to think the current provider, Community Living Elgin, was already undertaking this in credible fashion.
The initial agreement, to come into effect Jan. 1, 2021, is for a three-year term and the city has the option to extend the agreement for an additional two, one-year terms, subject to “satisfactory performance of the service provider and funding availability.”
As for the rationale for establishing three service delivery zones, the RFP advises, “The population of Elgin county is heterogeneous (incorrect spelling in the RFP, by the way) and geographically disperse(d). Service Delivery Zones for EarlyON Child and Family Centres were created based on geographic proximity of communities and current access to programs and services.”
The three zones are as follows:
West Zone: municipalities of West Elgin and Dutton/Dunwich – population of 8,861 with 635 children six years of age or younger
Central Zone: municipalities of Southwold, Central Elgin and City of St. Thomas – 55,937 and 4,150
East Zone: municipalities of Malahide, Bayham and Town of Aylmer – 24,180 and 2,650
The following amounts have been allocated for delivery of services in 2021:
West – $88,260
Central – $529,561
East – $264,780
The closing date for submission is November 12 with the awarding of contracts no later than 60 days after this date.
Keep in mind CLE’s current agreement ends Dec. 31 of this year with the new delivery model expected to be in place Jan. 1 of 2021.
Do you see a potential problem with these dates with such a quick turnaround?
“Proponents may apply to operate EarlyON Child and Family Centres in one or more than one Service Delivery Zone.”
Last week city manager Wendell Graves noted the desire to have a seamless transition.
Will this necessitate extending the current agreement with CLE?
And, is that organization permitted to bid on more than one service delivery zone?
According to the RFP, “Proponents may apply to operate EarlyON Child and Family Centres in one or more than one Service Delivery Zone. It is the city’s preference to have one provider per zone; however, we reserve the right to award the proposal to as many proponents necessary to ensure all zones are adequately serviced.”
So, in theory, there could be more than three providers.
What is of significant interest, however, is the two-page addendum containing a pair of hypothetical/real-case questions.
Number 1 deals with the low budget allocation for the West Zone and can it be increased?
The answer to that, according to the addendum info, is as follows.
“As noted in the RFP, the allocation was arrived at based on demographic
characteristics including the number of children age 0-6. The West Zone is home to 8.54% of children age 0-6 in St. Thomas and Elgin County and was allocated 10% of the funding, based on the 2020 allocation for the operation of EarlyON.
“As also noted in the RFP, allocations to each Zone are annual and will be reviewed and may be altered each year. This stands for 2021 as well,
particularly since we have not yet received notice of our overall 2021 EarlyON allocation from the Ministry of Education.”
Question 2 is significant in that it delves into the short turnaround time between the existing contract expiry and the expected start-up date. It also gives credence to city manager Wendell Graves’ remark to as last week.
“We are all aware of what I will call an unintended consequence in terms of not maybe, I’ll put it this way, fully appreciating what happens at EarlyON and how they (CLE) manage their internal union contracts.”
You have to wonder how well the new delivery model process has been thought through and the timing of it.
“It is our desire that EarlyON programming continues in a seamless if not modified manner once the contract is awarded, however, we understand and anticipate that there may be the need to provide a break in service.”
In any event, here is Question 2 in its entirety.
“We would like to request an extension of submission as the turn around time to complete the RFP is not adequate. It is difficult to secure letters of support and other documentation as organizations will have to have board meetings to approve letters.
“Also with pandemic restrictions in place, it is likely that EarlyOn
programs will not be able to operate in January 2021 and are more likely
operational in April or later. It would be appreciated if both of these questions could be given consideration.”
And, the response from the city.
“With regard to extending the RFP deadline, we are unable to do so however, we can provide some flexibility on submission of documents that are required from organizations outside of your own.
“We would be able to provide a two-week extension for these supporting documents; however, you would need to provide a request for this extension in writing as part of your RFP submission.
“It is our desire that EarlyON programming continues in a seamless if not modified manner once the contract is awarded, however, we understand and anticipate that there may be the need to provide a break in service.
“The CMSM (the city) will work with the successful provider(s) to create a schedule to continue and/or implement services in all three zones.”
Did you get that?
“. . . we understand and anticipate that there may be the need to provide a break in service.”
Does this not speak to “unintended consequences” of a spectacular magnitude?
And, let’s not forget, the motion to proceed in this fashion was approved by council in just 38 seconds.
A WARD SYSTEM? YOU DECIDE
While there was little support on council at last Monday’s (Oct. 19) reference committee meeting for adopting a ward system of municipal governance, there was general consensus the electorate should be the ones to decide either way.
We put the matter to clerk Maria Konefal as to the next step on an issue that has been bandied about by councils over the past few years going back to Coun. Jeff Kohler’s term as mayor and his task force dealing with it.
“They actually want a report on it,” advised Konefal. “So, it won’t move ahead unless they (council) vote ‘yes’ after I provide a report.”
Don’t expect that report in front of council any time soon, she cautions.
There was a report to council last month noting should council choose to pivot to a ward system in time for the 2022 municipal election, there would be a need to hire a consultant.
The response to hiring an individual or firm at taxpayer expense was less than lukewarm.
The alternative option is putting a question on the ballot in two years. And the deadline to proceed with that would be March 1 of 2022.
Konefal explains the process involved in a plebiscite.
“There would have to be notice to the public and a public meeting to consider that.
“And then, if it moves forward, we put the question on the 2022 election ballot and if we have 50 per cent of all eligible voters voting on the question, and if more than 50 per cent of the votes are cast in favour then it would be in place for the 2026 election.”
Do you see why this may be going nowhere?
When did St. Thomas last have a 50 per cent turnout in a municipal vote?
According to Konefal, you have to go back to the 1990s.
Of late the turnout has been in the high 30 per cent range.
So, if that 50 per cent benchmark is not reached, any decision by voters would not be binding.
However, council could bring in a ward system on its own without putting the question to voters.
As seen Monday, the appetite for members to do that is not there.
As to increased expense related to a plebiscite, Konefal suggested there shouldn’t be, with a caveat.
“If we go fully electronic (system of voting), no. If we also have a paper ballot, we just have to be a little more strategic in how we set up the ballot.
“I don’t expect there to be any increase in cost due to placing a question.”
With the province poised to remove the option of a ranked ballot system of voting – of which London was the only municipality to use this in the last municipal election – was this a system under consideration for St. Thomas?
“We did talk about it at the reference committee meeting as an alternative form of voting, for which a bylaw would need to be passed.
“In London, there was an increase in costs and they had to pay for an auditor from the U.S. because they couldn’t use anything from here.
“They had to have new software to accommodate the ranked ballot system. And, just because you use a ranked ballot system does not mean you don’t have to use a regular system for school boards because that system only works for council.”
She advised there would be a considerable cost to buy software to switch over to ranked ballots.
ON LOCATION IN ST. THOMAS/ELGIN
The area may never become Hollywood North, but it won’t be for lack of trying on the part of the mayors of a half dozen southwestern Ontario municipalities.
The mayors want the province to extend tax benefits to the region to attract more film and television production.
This follows on the heels of the recent shooting for the Netflix original series Locke & Key in Port Stanley.
St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston says it’s a case of making this area equal from a taxation point of view.
“We wrote a letter, collectively as mayors, to the tourism minister and the province and said those tax breaks people can get in other areas of Ontario (most notably the GTA and Northern Ontario) need to be available in southern Ontario and we need to be part of an area that is thought of as being a hotbed for television and movie production.”
Preston adds it’s not unlike the efforts of the Southwestern Ontario Marketing Alliance (SOMA, of which St. Thomas is a member), an economic partnership that promotes Canada’s industrial heartland.
“SOMA is a regional marketing group that works on attracting industry to our area. It’s a benefit to us all and we’re just going to take television and movie production as an industry and let’s get it into our area.
“Let’s at least speak altogether and ensure we’re all saying the same thing and not competing with each other.”
“It could be work in Woodstock one day, Port Stanley another day and in St. Thomas another day.”
Preston continued, “We’ve had a little bit of play on movies and television shows and it’s good that it’s breaking its way out of the GTA.”
In addition to the natural attractions in Port Stanley, the former psychiatric hospital and Alma College – when it was still with us – were notable venues for production companies.
And, don’t forget commercials as was the case several years ago with a car spot filmed in Port Stanley.
“It’s really anything on film,” stressed Preston. “Let’s at least speak altogether and ensure we’re all saying the same thing and not competing with each other.
“And, I think that always works better when that’s the case.”
Their letter notes last year the film and television industry in the province created 45,000 jobs and contributed over $2 billion to the economy.
“Let’s just see if we can’t move Hollywood north or St. Thomas south.
THE READER’S WRITE
Responding to our items over the past two weeks on the city adopting a new delivery model for the EarlyON program, reader Mac McArthur vents his frustration.
“This is just another case of Preston, his council and inept city managers not being able to prioritize. Obviously, the mayor and council could care less about this issue given the fact it took less than a minute to rubber-stamp a report with reckless repercussions to follow.”
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