After two long and difficult days of discussion, Norfolk County Council passed the 2020 operating budget Jan. 29.
“This was one of the toughest budgets Norfolk County has ever considered,” says Mayor Kristal Chopp. “This Council was forced to make some extremely difficult decisions. We know these decisions aren’t going to be popular, but they will put Norfolk back on the path toward financial sustainability.”
This year’s budget is the beginning of a multi-year plan to fix the County’s extensive financial issues, stemming from a range of past actions – including previous budget commitments, skyrocketing debt payments and unrealistic revenue and spending estimates – over which the current Council had little control.
Without a change in course, the County’s debt – which currently sits at around $81M – would have ballooned to more than $157M by 2024.
Adding to the financial difficulties is the fact that Norfolk County’s reserves have been depleted in order to offset large operating budget shortfalls and fund critical infrastructure repairs and replacements over the past number of years.
The situation worsened with the recent downloading of costs by the Province onto municipalities, particularly in public health.
Council approved a range of cost-cutting options put forth by staff, including:
- Permanently closing the ice at the Simcoe Rec Centre, with a plan to move summer ice to the Waterford Tricenturena
- Soliciting interest from the private sector or community groups in running municipal arenas (should this be unsuccessful, Norfolk will close an additional arena in September 2020)
- Moving seniors from the Simcoe Seniors Centre on Pond Street to the Simcoe Rec Centre (addressing a long-standing request by seniors to vacate the aging building)
- Declaring the Simcoe Seniors Centre building surplus and offering it for sale
- Closing the Teeterville Pioneer Museum and Teeterville Women’s Institute
- Amalgamating the Norfolk Arts Centre and archives in the current Eva Brook Donly Museum building, with the Eva Brook Donly’s artifact collection to be absorbed by remaining museums
- Reducing winter maintenance to be in line with minimum provincial standards
- Moving away from costly print advertising, in favour of more cost-effective digital tools
These are in addition to a number of other budget-shrinking decisions Council made over the course of two days.
Council also deferred until next year a proposal to end funding for the Delhi Kinsmen Pool.
Sitting as the Board of Health for Haldimand and Norfolk, Council also approved a reduction of $290,600 to Norfolk’s share of the public health budget, nullifying the impact of provincial downloading through the new 70-30 cost-sharing model.
Norfolk’s portion of the Ontario Works budget was reduced by $91,500.
Council also approved a small number of new budget initiatives considered critical to County operations or necessary for creating efficiencies.
These included the hiring of more paramedics and resources for the digitization and modernization of County services.
The total levy requirement needed to support the 2020 budget is $100,868,600. This will result in an average residential tax increase of 8.4%, or $234.79.