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Sep 2018 | The Future of Public Service Delivery

SMALL-TOWN ONTARIO ASSET MANAGEMENT: THE CASE OF THE TOWN OF FORT FRANCES
PSD Research

 

 

Located in Northwestern, Ontario, the small Town of Fort Frances exemplifies how imperative asset management is to the prosperity of small-town Ontario. With a declining population of just under 8,000, Fort Frances grapples with old and deteriorating infrastructure. Even more, their geographic location – hours from metropolitan areas – makes the shipment of raw materials very expensive. Evidently, Fort Frances’ challenges are far greater than the average municipality. Despite these challenges, the Town has exemplified that investing time and commitment into asset management is both attainable and valuable. PSD spoke with Travis Rob, Manager of Operations and Facilities and Crystal Tan, Asset Management Plan Coordinator, to discuss how the Town of Fort Frances has undertaken asset management and most importantly, how it will benefit the Town in years to come.

Using funds awarded to the Town of Fort Frances through the Federal Gas Tax, the Town had an asset management plan (AMP) developed in 2013, but with little buy-in from staff. Fort Frances was also pressured to develop a more detailed and mature AMP to comply with Federal Gas Tax requirements in order for the Town to continue receiving funds for asset management. The Town began working with PSD’s Asset Management RoadMap team in 2017. Travis stated that the Town’s decision to work with PSD was two-fold: the PSD RoadMap met all of the Federal Gas Tax Requirements and also ensured that their asset management program would be sustainable moving forward. In effect, asset management received buy-in from Council and the project moved forward.

 

I. Fort Frances’ Asset Management Team

 

Fort Frances’ asset management team is comprised of Travis Rob, Manager of Operations and Facilities; Crystal Tan, Asset Management Plan Coordinator; and Trish Law, who is dedicated to GIS. Additionally, the team has an Asset Management Committee which includes the Town’s Treasurer and Deputy Treasurer, the Operations Team, and the Communities Services Manager.

While Travis was quick to announce that he is “no asset management expert,” the PSD RoadMap team noted how his position has been an important factor in their asset management program development. Matthew Smith, Asset Management Research Analyst at PSD, noted that Travis’ position as Manager of Operations and Facilities is beneficial insofar that he understands first-hand the value of asset management, as well as breaking asset management steps down. The PSD RoadMap consists of eight steps:

  1. State of Maturity Report
  2. Asset Management Policy
  3. Data & Asset Performance Analysis
  4. Risk & Criticality Models
  5. Lifecycle Activity Framework
  6. Level of Service Framework
  7. Financial Strategies
  8. Asset Management Plan

 

The RoadMap team also highlighted how valuable it is for the Town to have a team member dedicated to asset management full-time. Crystal Tan, the Asset Management Plan Coordinator, joined the Town in July of 2017, bringing with her a background in Geotechnical Engineering. Crystal works closely with the PSD RoadMap team in collecting data, filling gaps in the Town’s existing asset inventory. Specifically, Crystal implemented a new process with photos when entering data into the asset inventory. As Crystal explains, “most of our assets have photos that help us communicate effectively. Before, most of our assets didn’t have a label and everyone named the asset differently. Now when we discuss an asset, we have the asset location and description to identify the asset. Photos ensure that no asset is being referenced as the same asset, saving the team a lot of time.”

 

II. Data Collection and Asset Assessment

 

Prior to undertaking the RoadMap, Fort Frances’ asset data was collected for the Public Sector Accounting Board (PSAB). PSAB establishes accounting standards for the public sector; among a long list of recommendations, PSAB advises municipalities in Canada to collect data and report on tangible capital assets. However, the data was generic and had sparse details. In effect, Fort Frances placed a large emphasis on collecting accurate and reliable data. Crystal’s data collection process helped with this. Moreover, the Town also implemented a zoom camera and CCTV inspection for all of their sanitary and storm sewer network. Through having updated and reliable condition assessments, Fort Frances is better able to identify needs and prioritize capital projects, ultimately driving their asset management program forward.

 

III. Moving Forward

 

O.Reg. 588/17 deadlines are impending for Ontario municipalities, but according to Travis, the Town isn’t panicking. “We are confident that we are on track.” Moving forward, Travis explained that his biggest concern regarding asset management is the human resources piece, “ensuring that we have someone on staff that is going to be able to focus enough of their time and attention to keep our asset management work going.” When speaking with Travis, he stressed that the biggest challenge to keeping asset management planning a key piece in the Town’s capital budget is achieving buy-in: “as councils change over time, the importance is that our administration’s work with asset management is properly and fully imparted on council to continually secure buy in.” What Travis can count on is the data that has already been collected, and that can subsequently be presented to the new council, including cost-benefit of lifecycle strategies and the benefits of holistic condition assessments.

Travis stressed that the Asset Management RoadMap has had positive effects already, specifically with Operations being able to access much more and much better asset data in much less time. Moving forward, Travis explained that the next couple of months will be dedicated to staff training for the Operations Division on CityWide software, including Asset Manager (AM), Capital Planning and Analysis (CPA), GIS, and Work Order Management. The PSD RoadMap team will also be working on Fort Frances’ latest AMP in early 2019, ensuring full compliance with O.Reg. 588. It is then that Fort Frances will see the greatest impact from asset management. By then, Fort Frances will also have a newly elected Council. With accurate asset data, sustainable asset management practices, and a collaborative asset management team empowered by tailored software solutions, Fort Frances staff will be able to bring the new City Council up to speed quickly. Stay tuned for the full Fort Frances Asset Management Case Study to be published in 2019.

To learn how asset management tools can integrate with and enhance your municipality's asset management processes CLICK HERE.