Burgess named CAO for Norfolk County

Jason Burgess is Norfolk County's new CAO. Handout jpg, DN

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The CAO question in Norfolk County has been settled in favour of a consultant who was hired on a contract basis last fall.

Jason Burgess, a native of St. Catharines, has served as Norfolk’s interim general manager of corporate service since September. Norfolk Mayor Kristal Chopp introduced Burgess as the county’s top administrative official during the county’s annual Economic Symposium in Simcoe on Feb. 13.

“There were some very strong candidates,” Chopp told the crowd at The Aud. “But one stood out from the pack. It’s the same guy who single-handedly turned an entire finance department around. It’s the same guy that encouraged life-long staff members to have the confidence to do their jobs better than ever before and bring forward all the dark accounting secrets they knew rested in Norfolk’s closet.

“It’s the same guy that helped them understand the bigger financial picture and what that meant to Norfolk in the same way he helped council understand.”

Burgess, 49, is a chartered public accountant by training and intends to purchase a home in Norfolk. Burgess was working as a consultant when he signed a short-term contract with Norfolk last year.

In an interview, Burgess said the CAO position in Norfolk remains attractive despite a number of structural problems with the municipality’s finances.

“First off, staff was really good and the culture is very good,” Burgess said in an interview, adding he likes the diversity and work ethic of this council.

Of Chopp – who has proven willing to court controversy since she was elected in 2018 – Burgess said, “She’s tough – but tough in a good way. She asks good questions. And everyone on council reads their agenda package.”

Burgess took the occasion of last Thursday’s symposium and the large crowd in attendance to explain some of his findings regarding Norfolk’s finances.

Burgess led with a review of audited financial statements which suggest Oxford County has a net worth of $112 million while Haldimand County has a net worth of $79 million.

Norfolk, by comparison, has a negative net worth of $20 million, Burgess said, adding there are no compensating factors to justify this such as enhanced infrastructure or superior services. Norfolk will continue to go into debt for the next few years, Burgess said, before the county will be in a position to dig itself out.

Burgess doesn’t find the task ahead daunting, pointing out trouble-shooting and “turnarounds” are a speciality of his.

“This is a textbook case,” he said.

Burgess was one of nearly 140 applicants for the top administrative position at Governor Simcoe Square. He is the fifth person to occupy the CAO’s office since David Cribbs abruptly resigned 13 months ago. The position in Norfolk has traditionally paid about $180,000 a year.

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