Labour pressures, IPM to raise county spending in 2017 - Dec. 22, 2016
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
While the Huron County budget will face its first official scrutiny at a special budget meeting on Jan. 19, a preview shows a proposed 5.8 per cent increase in spending.
Treasurer Michael Blumhagen spoke to Huron County Council about the budget at its Dec. 14 committee of the whole meeting, presenting the draft budget to council, which included a 1.67 per cent increase to the tax levy.
In his report, Blumhagen said that staff are facing some significant challenges in the 2017 budget year, particularly provincial funding cuts, ongoing labour pressures, significant costs associated with the 2017 International Plowing Match (IPM) in Walton and the past reliance on reserves for operational costs.
At the meeting, Blumhagen told councillors that the county’s Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) allotment was decreasing once again by over $350,000, representing a decrease of 15 per cent. He added that he expects the county’s OMPF money will be completely eliminated in a five-year period – another pressure that will require forward-planning on the county’s part.
The proposed spending increase is set at $2,170,405, which is a 5.8 per cent increase in year-over-year spending. That increase would bring the total county spending to $39,567,444 in 2017.
With the property assessment increase in 2017, Blumhagen said that the same value would support a 4.06 per cent increase on the levy.
As far as the assessment increases are concerned, Blumhagen said, councillors need to be aware of the extreme growth that has occurred in farmland assessment and the increased burden on those residents. Because of the shift, he said, rural residents will be supporting the county and its services more than they have in past years.
With ongoing staffing pressures in a budget in which more than half goes to salaries, Blumhagen said it’s important to limit salary increases.
“In respect of council’s desire to limit staff salary increases we have reduced non-union salary increases to 1.5 per cent for 2017. Staff will strive [to ensure] that future union settlements will fall in-line within this amount,” he said in his report. “The 1.5 per cent is in line with current 2016 CPI rates for Canada, however, falling short of the Ontario CPI rates of approximately 2.1 per cent. Union salaries continue to cause pressures and many settlements are coming in at higher than targets due to arbitrated settlements. The non-union salaries are being decreased from two per cent in 2016 in an effort to mitigate overall budget increases.”
An expected pressure in the budget, Blumhagen said, has historically been grants, although in the 2017 budget the only grant currently included is $60,000 to the Huron County Food Bank Distribution Centre. Blumhagen said that with significant funding promised to the 2017 IPM, staff is recommending that no additional grants be approved in the 2017 budget. With this in mind, he said, he hoped to decrease the budget for unforeseen costs (from which grants would normally be funded) from $100,000 to $25,000.
He added that a number of departments, including public works, social services and planning and information technology are all facing more significant pressures in the coming years, which has served to make the budget process even more difficult.
While the budget year in 2017 will be challenging, Blumhagen told council that the county is currently in a surplus position of between $1 million and $1.4 million, which is still subject to year-end adjustments.
Council will thoroughly discuss the 2017 budget at a special budget deliberation session set for Thursday, Dec. 19.