Norfolk Mayor Kristal Chopp says Norfolk residents should be under no illusion about the challenges facing the county.
In the annual state-of-the-county address to the Simcoe & District Chamber of Commerce, Chopp said key infrastructure continues to deteriorate despite frantic spending in recent years.
“Right now, we have close to a $7-million infrastructure gap and we are using the capital replacement reserves faster than we can fund them,” Chopp said at a breakfast meeting at The Greens at Renton on May 8.
“Since 2009, our debt per household has doubled from $1,033 to $2,019, and the reserves per household have decreased to less than half from $1,725 to $737.”
Framing the problem another way, Chopp said Norfolk’s capital reserve balance in 2009 was $48 million. Today, “it is now less than half that.”
Chopp noted that the infrastructure gap is expanding despite the massive amounts of money going out the door.
Norfolk has 238 bridges and culverts, she said, and of these 182 are more than 40 years old. Another 16 are more than 70 years old. Sooner of later, Chopp said, they are going to need attention.
Meanwhile, the unexpected failure of the bridge on the Long Point Causeway near George Lane last year has presented the county with a large, multi-million dollar cost.
There have been another two unexpected, expensive failures in recent weeks on top of that. These include a deep culvert failure on McDowell Road West near Langton that won’t be repaired until June and an urgent $2.7-million repair to a major water main in Port Rowan.
Gas well leaks on county property have also been in the news since August, 2017. The most serious is on Forestry Farm Road in Silver Hill.
Chopp told the crowd it could cost as much as $2 million to control the poisonous sulphur dioxide gas emanating from this area. After the work is done, Chopp said there are no guarantees the gas won’t vent elsewhere in “whack-a-mole” fashion.
Perhaps the biggest challenge, Chopp said, is the water capacity deficit in Port Dover – Norfolk’s fastest-growing community.
Chopp said Norfolk has the capacity to treat 2,454 cubic metres of water a day in Port Dover, which itself has the capacity to draw 4,579 cubic metres at peak demand. Chopp says the numbers are ominous.
“That is less than 50 per cent (capacity),” Chopp said. “It is a nightmare. This is the Dover issue that keeps me up at night, not the Misner Dam.”
The hits keep on coming, the mayor said, pointing out that the Ford government is cutting costs in response to a $15-billion provincial deficit. Health units and ambulance services are about to amalgamate, and it remains to be seen what impact this has on municipal finances.
“I’m not saying any of this to scare you,” Chopp said. “I’m telling you this because I have made a commitment to transparency, accountability and telling it like it is.
“This council has inherited a mess. But we will not continue to ignore items. We will address them. This is not our destiny and we will get through it.”
Chopp didn’t shy away from assessing blame. She said “From the research I’ve done, the (county) has lacked strong leadership at the top since Haldimand and Norfolk went their separate ways.”
Chopp assured the 150 in attendance that the leadership issue has been addressed with her election as mayor and the recent hiring of Harry Schlange – former top administrator in Niagara Region and Brampton – as Norfolk’s interim CAO.
Chopp said the county – looking to the future – must be diligent and tackle each challenge one at a time. She gave assurances that this council is up to the task and offered hope for a brighter future.
“We may be buried right now but we are a seed and this is `Ontario’s Garden,’” she said.