County focused on financial sustainability: warden
By Vanessa Balintec
On Tuesday, May 7, Haliburton County Warden Liz Danielsen addressed public concerns and questions over what her and the council’s plans will be for the next coming year.
“Our primary goal is sustainability,” said Danielsen. “For us that means we have funds available to replace or rehabilitate assets whenever it’s needed. If we continue to work towards this goal of sustainability, it will ensure that there is no unanticipated large spikes in tax rates as we face large projects.”
The first matter at hand was looking at road maintenance, as the spring season has shown there’s a long list of projects scheduled for improvements this year.
Danielsen said the county did not receive sufficient funding from the provincial government for provincial highway upkeep, and it may take as long as three years to see a turn-around in optimal road maintenance and sustainability. “While best efforts have always been made to keep up roads, they can sometimes be at the expense of other roads.”
Haliburton County has a debt capacity that can allow consideration for loans to speed up the process in the future, said Danielsen.
In terms of sustainability, council has also looked into long-term investments in climate change mitigation and adaptation that all four municipalities can work together on.
“We’ll be initiating a climate [change] mitigation and adaptation plan that will outline environmental sustainability priorities, establish goals and targets and identify actions to achieve them.”
To ensure the protection of lakes, the county is also investing in additional shoreline protection which will incorporate the existing shoreline tree preservation bylaw. Danielsen noted it would be changing all municipal bylaws and enforcing new ones will be a “somewhat difficult and long” task to achieve.
The county continues to invest in retrieving data from the Gull River and Burnt River to complete flood engineering, hydrology, and mapping. Danielsen says an investment of more than $266,000 represents just 50 per cent of proposed 2019 costs shared with the federal government.
“The overall project investment does far exceed that amount,” said Danielsen.
Among sustainability, amalgamation and government structure was a topic of concern.
According to Danielsen, the council is working closely with all four municipalities for a shared services review to help determine how closely the municipalities have to work together to help reduce costs, provide better service, and maintain “unique individuality.”
Some guests had concerns over whether or not this would be a repeat of previous years’ talks with no action.
“Everybody is going into it with an absolute open mind, I can tell you that,” said Danielsen.
“We are not convinced amalgamation in its true form will work. I think in many ways we’ll lose our identity, we’ll lose our ability to make decisions on our own, and we’re not convinced that it’s going to save money in the long-run. I don’t think people realize just how much we already share our services.”
“We will look at all models, costing, and what we might save. In the meantime, we’re working together, all four municipalities and the county,” said Danielsen.
Danielsen said the council should have the results of the shared services review in time for the upcoming strategic planning session taking place close to two months’ time.
Progress in internet and cell service was of interest, too.
This year, $140,000 was invested in Eastern Ontario Regional Network as a contribution towards a cell coverage improvement project and updated broadband gap analysis. A total between $500,000 to $600,000 has been contributed. The council is confident they will be hearing an announcement from upper levels of government about funding that will improve gaps in cell service and provide improvements in the area. Alternatives for faster service will continue to be investigated.
“Once the EORN is armed with information on the gap analysis, we’ll be looking for the fastest way to leverage enough money for projects to happen as quickly as possible,” said Danielsen.
Meanwhile, Bell has just announced its new wireless home service in the area starting in northern parts in the county and working south that use network infrastructure from the original EORN contributions.
Danielsen alluded to the future of rural transit.
“It just doesn’t seem viable right now,” said Danielsen. “While there have been high hopes for rural transit, unfortunately we had to place this project on the back burner at least for this year to ensure that we maintain existing levels of service before implementing new programs.”
However, an established reserved fund for transportation will remain a “standing item for future consideration” every year when budgeting and long-term planning takes place.
A development charges study this year will take place.
“The goal is to ensure the full cost of providing infrastructure to service new growth areas is not borne completely by taxpayers,” said Danielsen.
“We are simply exploring the use of development charges to assist covering part of the cost, something the province is encouraging. I don’t want to alarm people – we don’t have any decision to where we go with that. We’ll wait to see what the study tells us.”
As for new development, the county continues to invest in desperately-needed housing projects with the City of Kawartha Lakes.