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County’s behind the eight-ball but will look for more budget efficiencies

While municipal staff are steeling for coming provincial funding cuts, council at its Committee of the Whole meeting Thursday, suggested a goal of a 10 per cent reduction in departmental budgets.

Councillor Andreas Bolik’s motion also suggests departments examine operations on three levels and sort by things mandated by statute; mandated by policy, and other.

Acting CAO Robert McAuley noted staff already has some angst about provincial reductions of about five per cent or more and with reductions to external boards, will have to pick up the shortfall as well as keep up with the promised funding for other items, including the County’s hospital.

“We are already behind the eight-ball,” he said, and should consider the 10 per cent as a goal, rather than added to the five per cent.”

He noted staff is willing to support an objective challenge, and traditionally works on goals of keeping budgets at status-quo.

“There’s also the magnitude. We’re talking about a $3.8 million reduction,” said McAuley. “That’s a large reduction and will not be found nibbling at the edges.”

If there is a substantive redesign to the budget process, McAuley advised council it would not be able to set the budget in December as usual; it would likely be February. Council, he noted, may also gain guidance when it looks at the Strategic Plan Review next month.

Councillors noted support for finding council efficiencies and a reinvestment of any savings from budgets into strategic priorities.

“The whole aim is to look at efficiencies… A whopping tax increase next year is not going to fly,” said Bolik. “It is about a planning exercise – in categories of things we must do, things we should do and things that are nice to do. And it’s an exercise about how we do those things. It’s a way of changing the paradigm and shake it up.”

Mayor Steve Ferguson called it a worthwhile endeavor and a long overdue process.

“Between what councillor Bolik is putting forward and the acting CAO is saying, is effectively something that’s never been done in this municipality and could be a game changer. It’s an opportunity for us to look very closely at what resources we have available to us; services we offer and to take a hard long look at those and engage the public to determine what they want, need and what’s important to them.”

The timing of a budget early in the new year, he noted, may coincide with funding news from the province.

To facilitate the magnitude of the strategic business plan, McAuley suggested an easing of the timeline through a series of reports, the initial of which should land in October. The goal would be to set the 2020 budget no later than the end of February.

Council also agreed to create a Reserve for Modernization using an unconditional grant of $725,000 from the province given to assist with finding ways to achieve cost effective and efficient service delivery.

Staff expects the funds are intended to offset future provincial budget transfer reductions and have identified several key areas for review, including e-business initiatives, improving how the public gets digital access to services, software and hardware to streamline operations such as purchasing, invoicing and time tracking and asset management software.

An initial expenditure of $25,000 was made from the grant to acquire iPads for council and facilitate the move to a digital agenda. Council was trained Thursday morning, and had the iPads in use at the Committee of the Whole meeting.

That move alone, Mayor Ferguson stated, “will save the municipality immense amounts of time and money, not to mention trees, over this term.”

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  1. We taxpayers are made victims of bad governance when we’re forced to financially support toxic government policies that work against us, and our best interests, whether they are provincial or municipal policies.
    Financial mismanagement by Ontario governments has seriously damaged every municipality since forced amalgamation was imposed on us.
    Bad financial policies that hurt municipalities are rarely challenged by our elected officials because they’re sworn to uphold and support all provincial policies, regardless of their negative impacts on residents. This reveals that elected official’s are legally sworn to support government policies over the legitimate needs of their electorate. We witnessed this conflict during the Skyway Bridge safety fiasco.
    Conscientious residents who demand better governance will never achieve it if they rely on local elected officials, because they are legally obliged to support provincial policies, before they serve their own constituents. This is a direct conflict of interest which elected officials ignore to our detriment. No wonder we cannot advance serious changes to correct bad government policies that hurt us.

  2. Michelle says:

    I hope when you say the County should not contemplate reducing taxes, you are not pushing to maintain annual 8% increases.

  3. Gary Mooney says:

    When Peter Mertens was Mayor and Merlin Dewing was CAO, there was a review of all services being offered / supported by the municipality. Citizens were asked to indicate what services they were willing to lose. The answer: none of them — i.e. citizens insisted on keeping all services, and that’s what was done.

    A cutback of 10% (= ruthless) is not uncommon in private enterprise, but unheard of in municipal government, especially considering the inevitable pushback from CUPE. And, as Rob McAuley points out, the province is poised to download some responsibilities (= costs) to municipalities.

    Using a standard measure of $100K per employee for salary, benefits, housing, equipment etc. this would mean downsizing by 38 people.

    There is a glimmer of hope in looking to technology to effect significant savings, but I don’t think that the County has the expertise inhouse to make this happen. Instead, or in addition, it may be that County citizens with particular expertise could suggest ways to reduce costs.

    A problem that will hamper this cost reduction effort is that we’re missing a number of senior staff, and the pace of filling these positions is somewhere between slow and stopped. In their absence, it’s going to be difficult to move anything along.

    With a target of a 10% reduction in departmental budgets, Council is setting itself up for a major embarrassment.

    If by some miracle significant savings are found, the budget for roads should be increased by a like amount. The County should not contemplate reducing taxes.

  4. Todd says:

    It’s not about revenue, its about stopping the out of control spending and selling assets that the County does not need or use. On the up side, if they keep raising taxes they will solve the affordable housing issue since people won’t be able to afford to live here anymore.

  5. Angela says:

    Behind the eight ball? Wondering where and how to raise more revenue? And the first thing they do with an unconditional grant is to buy themselves iPads?? That explains a lot.

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