What’s in it for us? That question was in the mayors’ minds when they were mulling over whether or not to rescind the United Counties of Prescott and Russell’s membership from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Association française des municipalités de l’Ontario.
The two memberships combined cost more than $20,000—FCM is $14,424 and AFMO, $5,887.
“I read a lot of information coming from (the FCM), and it focuses on big cities,” said François St. Amour, mayor of The Nation.
Mayors around the table shared that same sentiment.
In a follow-up interview, Stéphane Parisien, CAO of the UCPR, said it won’t be losing any lobbying power if removing its membership.
One the other hand, better lobbying power is partly what’s keeping the UCPR as a member of AFMO.
To pay or not to pay?
Parisien also mentioned AFMO was in dire financial straits.
But Russell Mayor Pierre Leroux wasn’t convinced.
“(AFMO) did a lot more before when it didn’t have any money,” he said. “At this point, I’m not ready to support the organization.”
But Hawkesbury Mayor Jeanne Charlebois disagreed, saying the work the organization accomplished in the past is precisely the reason it needs support now.
Parisien was AFMO’s treasurer for seven years in the early 2000s, he says the organization has to figure what it can offer its member municipalities.
Asked what that could be, he said, “Better lobbying at the provincial level for francophone municipalities.” And added, “I think there’s a lack of lobbying because (AFMO) is caught up in its financial problems.”
AFMO’s financial woes
Earlier this year, at its annual general meeting, AFMO’s financial reports showed it has lost money for the past eight consecutive years, totaling about $156,000.
The cash-strapped organization could no longer guarantee a job for its single full-time employee, whose salary made up about 60 per cent of the organization’s $260,000 budget last year.
Marc Chénier, AFMO’s treasurer, says changes to federal and provincial funding in recent years have hurt the organization’s finances. He adds that in the last two years, membership has also declined.
Faced with the alarming financial situation, Chénier says the organization rolled up its sleeves and started on a two-year recovery plan. That plan has membership fees entirely dedicated to “investing in AFMO’s mission,” meaning no salaries until the organization is financially stable.
But for the next year, Chénier says the organization will also be working towards defining what exactly that mission is and how it can better serve its member municipalities.
In Chénier’s opinion, AFMO should work to spread information faster to its members on changes at the provincial level. He gives the example of Bill 148, the proposed bill to raise the minimum wage among other changes. The organization should analyze the bill and add comments to it about how it would affect its municipalities. That would allow its members to come up with their own position rather than react to those taken by anglophone municipalities, which Chénier says is currently the case.
According to a report presented at the meeting, the UCPR has at least one membership with 50 different organizations totaling $94,385.
Gary Barton, Mayor of Champlain and UCPR Warden, highlighted a few other expensive memberships. For example, the Prescott and Russell Residence is a member of the Ontario Association of Non-Profit Homes and Services for Seniors, which costs $13,015.
Other notable memberships include $9,030 for the Ontario Municipal Social Services Association (which is based on population); $7,369 for the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (based on number of households); $6,583 for Accréditation Agrément Canada; $6,507 for a Forest Stewardship Council certification from the Eastern Ontario Model Forest; and $5,000 for the Eastern Ontario Wardens Caucus.
Parisien said the presentation focused on AFMO and the FCM because there were no obvious benefits in remaining members of the two organizations.
The mayors settled on bringing a resolution to the next council meeting to officially rescind its membership from the FCM, and decided to remain an AFMO member for the next year.