News

Norfolk approves $400G in budget savings

By Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer

 Norfolk County is relying on a break from Old Man Winter to help cut $400,000 in spending from its 2018 budget. The month of March so far isn’t co-operating as the local area has endured two large dumpings of snow over the past week. Here, members of the Simcoe Composite School hockey team make their way to Talbot Gardens following Wednesday’s heavy snowfall.  MONTE SONNENBERG / SIMCOE REFORMER

Norfolk County is relying on a break from Old Man Winter to help cut $400,000 in spending from its 2018 budget. The month of March so far isn’t co-operating as the local area has endured two large dumpings of snow over the past week. Here, members of the Simcoe Composite School hockey team make their way to Talbot Gardens following Wednesday’s heavy snowfall. MONTE SONNENBERG / SIMCOE REFORMER

SIMCOE - 

Norfolk council ended its 2018 budget talks in January by telling staff to come up with an additional $400,000 in savings.

The mission was important. Without it, residential property taxes would’ve increased this year by 2.8 per cent and not the 2.3 per cent council approved.

Staff presented its proposals Feb. 20. Whether that list stands up depends on the weather between now and the end of the year.

During budget talks, council often dips into winter control when it is looking for savings.

When council does this, it is gambling that public works has over-estimated how much it will need to keep roads, streets, parking lots and major sidewalks free of snow and ice.

This year is no different. At the Feb. 20 meeting, a big chunk of the $400,000 came by way of a $144,500 reduction in Norfolk’s 2018 winter-control budget.

Lee Robinson, Norfolk’s general manager of public works, told council she was comfortable with this given what she’d heard of the long-range forecast. The sum of $144,500, she said, represents about half the cost of digging out from a big snowstorm.

Robinson said the end of February into March looked relatively quiet. At the time, she wasn’t banking on the major snowfalls that hit southern Ontario March 2 and again Wednesday morning.

Still, Robinson says the potential remains to hang onto the $144,500 reduction.

“Our budget is from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31,” she said this week in an email. “As such, there is still room in our 2018 budget for snow removal. We are not in ‘overrun-operating deficit’ territory yet. We will not know until late November-early December.”

Despite the intensity of the snowstorms so far this month, Robinson said they are the easiest and cheapest to clean up. The expensive snow, she added, is the dry kind that falls during cold, windy spells.

Robinson says snowplows can be on the road for days removing drifting snow from a single storm. That’s not a consideration with heavy, wet snow that falls when day-time temperatures are above freezing.

Reducing winter-control estimates is risky because the budget numbers are based on a formula. Estimates in this area represent a rolling average encompassing costs over the past five years. A big cut assumes a big deviation in the weather to come.

Other items cut from the 2018 budget include:

• Fuel: $40,000

• Vehicle GPS units: $25,000

• Legal fees: $50,000

• Four-day postponement of Provincial Offences court: $6,500

• Ambulance budget: $10,200

• Fire department: $4,300

• Port Dover Harbour Marina: $15,000

• Parks & recreation: $40,500

• Eva Brook Donly Museum: $24,000

Staff suggested eliminating Norfolk’s $40,000 cat-control partnership with the Simcoe & District Humane Society and Norfolk PAWS.

However, council decided to keep the program in place. During a recent presentation, council heard that these groups’ trap, neuter and adopt campaign is making a dent in Norfolk’s feral cat population.

Norfolk treasurer James Johnson said staff will use the remainder of 2018 to make up the savings elsewhere. Options include “gapping,” which involves payroll savings from deferred hiring for necessary positions.

MSonnenberg@postmedia.com