I'm just back from spending three days in Regina at the annual Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA) conference. Often, conferences have the image of being just a wild fun time, with nothing to show for the time spent afterward, but I have found that there's always something that I can learn to help me do my job better as a city councillor.
There are always educational sessions, which can be of varying quality and interest. This year, the most interesting that I attended had to do with the concept of reciprocal insurance. In this system, municipalities would combine to become their own insurer for community assets (buildings, facilities, etc). Participating in such a system could save 5 - 15% in annual premium rates in the first year alone. Any surplus (the difference between premiums and payouts) would be shared among member municipalities, either through reduced premiums, or through direct payouts. This would be a Saskatchewan solution with the risks based on Saskatchewan situations, not, as so often happens, on larger, less likely risks (like 9-11). Already similar programs are successful in Manitoba and Ontario. To get involved, Prince Albert would have to have a risk assessment done, and commit with a financial deposit to participating for a three-year term. I will be bringing this forward to city council with the recommendation that we be part of this cost-saving measure.
The trade show is always interesting, with innovative products that could help solve some of our city's problems. For example, there were speed bumps made of recycled tires, that can be bolted in one location, then moved if needed elsewhere, or if maintenance work needs to be done. There were devices that can identiy the precise location of water leaks, saving time and money by avoiding digging up entire streets to find a single leak. I'll be sharing this information with members of administration, and hoping that they follow up to see if such solutions would be feasible for our city.
Networking with council members from other municipalities is always interesting and educational. For example, I had conversations with councillors from Saskatoon, Humboldt, and Regina about various mutual concerns that we have with our libraries. It's always good to hear how other communities approach similar problems, and they're interested in how we handle things too.
Finally, this was an opportunity to start cultivating a relationship with the new provincial government. Many MLAs and ministers were at most functions, more than happy to discuss their areas of responsibility, and how they hope to improve things at their level of government.
Five members of council were able to attend this year's convention. Not everybody has the flexibility to take time off for this conference - for those of us that can, I think that it's time well spent.