Heading in to 2020 budget preparations, Mayor Kristal Chopp wants residents to be fully prepared for what will be difficult discussions about the state of Norfolk County’s finances.
“I think we’ve been quite open and transparent about the situation we inherited,” she says. “For far too long, Norfolk County’s finances have been neglected, and that means we’re going to have to make some very difficult decisions to get things back on track.”
Those decisions will include, among other things, what to do about the 2020 tax levy, which as currently proposed would require an increase of more than 7% just to maintain current County service levels.
That means paying a lot more in taxes, but not having anything more to show for it.
Adding to the financial difficulties is the fact that Norfolk County’s reserves have been completely depleted over the last number of years. Without a change in course, the County’s debt – which currently sits at around $54M – is projected to climb to more than $157M by 2022.
Chopp says Council will need to get creative with their problem-solving when it comes to next year’s budget.
“As an example, Norfolk County spends $20 per resident on museums each year – yet the provincial median is only $6. Clearly, decisions need to be made. People don’t want higher taxes, but they also don’t want a reduction in services. Unfortunately, you can’t have both.”
Chopp says alternate service models – for instance, putting some programs or facilities into the hands of community groups – could be a solution in some areas.
“We’ll need to consider everything if we’re going to right the ship.”
Given all of this, Chopp says she recognizes that some in the community may question the logic of the recent purchase of land for the proposed ALL Norfolk Community Centre.
“We need to put Norfolk County back on solid financial ground, but that doesn’t mean we ignore the future,” says Chopp. “We want to take advantage of the opportunity to invest in the long-term health of our community, but we have to be smart about it. That’s why we included special conditions – such as a “buy-back” clause – on the purchase of land meant for the ALL Norfolk Community Centre.”
The clause means that if Norfolk County doesn’t secure provincial-federal funding (a Council requirement for supporting the ALL Norfolk project), the landowner will purchase the land back at the price the County originally paid for it.
Chopp also notes that the proposed community centre is an example of the strategic reinvestment of County spending, as the new, multi-use centre would replace a number of inefficient, outdated facilities that are not sustainable for Norfolk County.
Key upcoming dates in the budget schedule include:
Oct. 29, 9 a.m. – Capital budget
Nov. 19, 9 a.m. – Rate and user-fees
Jan. 28 – 30, 9 a.m. – Operating budget
All meetings are public and take place in Council Chambers.