As the behind-the-scenes financial guy, Lang Britchford (Perth’s Treasurer) was a bit nervous answering questions at an ‘exit’ interview. He likes gathering information and handing it to front-line politicians for them to hand out, but he’s a bit wary and uncomfortable talking about himself and his work. He’s retiring mid-May so still has six weeks at the helm of Perth’s finances but he squirmed at tooting his own horn.
Britchford is sticking around Perth – he’s not leaving the small community he and his wife have made home for the past 14 years. He wants to get further involved with volunteering – but maybe not as a treasurer in an organization, he grins. His old wooden boat is waiting for attention and he has not fully-thought-out plans for long trips up the Rideau to the Trent-Severn, up the side of Georgian Bay, and then to the North Channel.
At nine months before 62, this next part of his life he sees as a journey, an adventure. He’s looking forward to the change, and intrigued as to where it will take him; he intends to pay attention and make the experience as positive as he can. There’s an expression he quotes from his sister-in-law – “go-go 60s, slow-go 70s and no-go 80s.” So he doesn’t think he’s retiring early, just at the right time. He wants to be physically able to do the things he still wants to do before the ‘no-go 80s’ hit.
In the nearly decade and a half Britchford has been Perth’s treasurer, he’s been integrally involved with moving it forward and making it a town where people want to live and retire. One of the more important events was the strong role he played in the business decision “to outsource policing to the OPP.
“It was clearly an important issue for the community.” He remembers people came out in force to the public meetings. “We had to get it right. You bet we sweated the details,” he said, emphatically. “We made sure we made the right decision.”
The OPP was sworn in April 6, 2013. Looking back, Britchford said it went seamlessly, and the past five years, from a financial point of view, have proven it a worthwhile decision. “It was a wonderful efficiency to our community. This year, 2018, our budget saving is $1.2 million over what we were paying for our own police force in 2013. [We were paying] about $3 million a year in Perth for our police, and this year [we’re paying] $1.8 million and change with the OPP.”
Where did all that money go? “It freed up funds. We put it back into capital, and it helps keep our infrastructure in good shape. We don’t have to burden taxpayers for that additional money because we’re using the savings and efficiencies [from the transition to the OPP].
“So taxes did not have to go up,” he grins.
Once started, Britchford easily went on to describe an issue that “would probably only excite accountants,” he said, his eyes laughing. “We worked through the most significant changes in accounting in municipalities in probably the last 100 years – financial reporting and monitoring.
“We now track and record our assets to understand them better, and to do life cycles and replacement strategies better. Prior to that when an asset was bought and expensed it just disappeared off the books. Now we follow a more private-sector business-type modelling where we record assets on the balance sheet and amortize them over time. This models their useful life…
“A good example would be our basin – the water is owned by Parks Canada, the docks are owned by Parks Canada, the municipal responsibility ends at the grass. The perception was when I first came here that the municipality was responsible for docks, and Parks Canada’s [responsibility] ended at the water.”
Tracking of assets became a reality nationally and provincially in 2008. “We’re 10 years in,” Britchford said, “and we’re still not where we need to be; it’s a pretty mammoth undertaking. Every municipality, county, and township in Ontario, if they want provincial funding – thou must!”
Some interesting and fun facts came out of the leg-work, and it really was an exercise going back to the 1800s looking through council minutes; for instance, the initial cost of Town Hall had to be determined.* (Read to the end to find out the cost.)
“Now we look at assets more in terms of what the replacement cost is and how much money do we need to replace that asset when it comes due. It’s one thing as it depreciates over time but the other is how’s funding doing to have funds ready to pay for replacement in future dollars (which will be obviously greater.)”
Britchford is content with his decision to retire. He’s left his mark, he has places to go, people to see and things to do. Thoughtfully and respectfully he talks about Perth: “I’m going to miss some of the challenges. There was never a dull day, always something coming at me that stretched my imagination, forced me to think. Not every day was riotous but at the end [I learned] this community has good spirit and good attitude. We got through our challenges, and then we got on and enjoyed the day. It’s been a privilege.”
One last note – Britchford not only likes wooden boats, he’s a great proponent of cardboard boat races. Watch for him at the next Ferry regatta.
*Town Hall, $2,500
This article was first published in the April 2018 issue of Hometown News. For more articles from our April 2018 issue, pick up a print copy at a local retailer (find a list of locations here) or read our digital version.