Councillors uncertain of provincial funding heading into budget
By Darren Lum
Published Feb. 14, 2019
Amidst the projected numbers, requests for new equipment, and talk of funding sustainability, there was a sense of concern at the first meeting for the Haliburton County 2019 budget on Friday, Feb. 8 at the county office in Minden.
Issues included increased expenses from winter maintenance related to weather and climate change; a proposal to hire a physician recruiter to address the doctor shortage; LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), a technology that uses a laser-based system to produce detailed topographical images; and impact of the provincial government’s effort to lower the $15 billion deficit inherited from the previous government.
Major cuts have already been made to other sectors by the provincial government in the past few months and there is an expectation of more to come for municipalities. Cost saving measures for some municipalities could come in the form of amalgamation of operations and/or funding cuts.
During the meeting, when county councillors were presented with the budget for public works, it was suggested by more than one representative that equipment could be shared between the four lower-tier municipalities, charging usage fees instead of looking outside the county to rent industrial equipment.
There was a consensus this self-directed consolidation, which has been discussed before, is better than waiting for something to be imposed by the province.
“The province has actually said that they would like to see us working on our own solution ... we just need to all try to be on the same page going forward, willing to be open to new ideas,” county Warden Liz Danielsen said.
Specifically, the county is uncertain about its OMPF (Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund) funding. The proposed budget is working from the assumption the county will receive $200,000 for 2019, said county treasurer Elaine Taylor.
She adds the provincial government is re-evaluating OMPF and, “It could be zero if they say they’re not going to continue.”
She said there has been a steady decline with OMPF grants, as the county received $334,300 in 2018 and $393,200 in 2017.
For context, the loss of $200,000 could cost residents slightly more than approximately one per cent increase in property tax, which would help make up for the loss.
OMPF is the province’s main assistance grant for municipalities, the government’s website says. There are four core grant components and transitional assistance that reflect its objectives: support areas with limited property assessment; recognize the challenges of northern and rural municipalities, while targeting funding to those with more challenging fiscal circumstances; and assist municipalities as they transition to the redesigned program. The transitional assistance refers to a guaranteed level of support to municipalities based on previous year’s Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund allocation. The province provided $510 million to 389 municipalities through the program.
Haliburton County Public Library CEO Bessie Sullivan didn’t hide her anxiety related to uncertainty over the Public Library Operating Grant and Public Library Pay Equity grant. Combined they are worth $120,000.
“It’s a big chunk of money and we rely on that,” she said.
Besides revenue from taxation, this is the greatest amount of revenue for the library. It is projected to represent 11.5 per cent of the library’s revenue in 2019. Losing this funding could add to the list of challenges, which include the high fees for downloadable products such as ebooks.
Taylor said there is $79,000 in reserves that could be directed to the HCPL.
Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin was away on holidays and Dave Burton was ill. As a result, county council said they would delay any important decisions until they meet again when Devolin and Burton are present.
The budget has outlined a proposed levy of $18,079,504. This is 9.16 per cent more than 2018 and would result in a 5.39 per cent tax rate increase based on 2019 assessment values. The result is $10.74 per $100,000 for residences with no change in assessment value. There would be $32.22 increase of tax on a residence worth $300,000. The industrial occupied properties would see a tax increase of $18.45 per $100,000 of weighted assessment. The budget has not yet been set and these numbers will likely change.