Ontario's Municipal Performance Measurement Program: Fostering Innovation and Accountability in Local Government

Article excerpt

Emerging from a period of reform in the municipal environment, the Ontario government in 2000 launched mandatory performance measurement program for municipalities in the province. The Municipal Performance Measurement Program requires municipalities to report annually on 54 measures of effectiveness and efficiency in 12 key service areas. The MPMP was designed to strengthen local accountability by keeping citizens informed about municipal service plans, standards, costs, and value. It was also meant to help municipalities improve local services by stimulating productivity and creativity. In this context, the program was designed with other management improvement activities and benchmarking initiatives in mind.

Five years later, the MPMP has proven useful to municipalities and taxpayers alike. After playing a leading role in developing the program, municipalities are now poised to receive some payback. The measures are now well defined and widely understood, and the results are available to taxpayers, elected officials, and administrators. Municipalities can compare their performance year-over-year or with the results of their peers. The public can use the information to persuade their representatives to make cost-saving improvements to services. Data from the MPMP has been used to uncover dozens of best practices in municipal service delivery--practices that have documented and quantifiable benefits and that are made freely available to all municipalities to replicate. Similarly, for the provincial government that launched the program, long-term success is now tied to the improvements it fosters.

This article examines how the MPMP has helped improve municipal accountability and service delivery in Ontario. It explains why the province embarked on the initiative and describes what the program measures and how it works. It concludes by highlighting the program results to date and the challenges to continued success.

WHY ONTARIO DEVELOPED THE MPMP (1)

With 11 million residents, Ontario is Canada's most populous province and the engine that powers the Canadian economy. Larger in area than Texas and New Mexico combined, the province comprises urban regions and agricultural communities in the south, and sparsely populated, resource-based economies in the north. The 445 municipalities in the province are a mix of large cities such as Toronto and Ottawa, and regional and county municipalities with constituent cities, towns, townships, and villages.

In the 1990s, the Ontario government initiated a realignment of responsibilities and sweeping reforms in the provincial-municipal relationship. Municipalities assumed full financial responsibility and greater control of 12 services that were previously shared with the provincial government. About $3 billion dollars in services were exchanged. At the same time, the provincial government introduced municipal financial reform that brought consistent province-wide market value assessment to the municipalities' property tax base. The same reform effort lifted 50 percent of the costs of public education from the municipal property tax base, allowing municipalities to re-direct this revenue to meet their expanded service responsibilities.

Finally, the province enacted new legislation in 2001 that gave municipalities more flexibility in managing their operations, but also required greater accountability to local taxpayers. The MPMP was a key element in the accountability framework set out in the legislation.

At the same time, many municipalities were implementing their own cost saving or performance improvement initiatives. In 2000, municipal administrators from the largest municipalities formed the Ontario Municipal CAO's Benchmarking Initiative to identify exemplary practices in public service provision. Since then, OMBI has attracted a wider clientele among progressive municipalities that see the benefits of measurement and comparison. …