The County of Haliburton passed its 2020 budget Jan. 22 limiting its levy increase to 1.67 per cent.
Staff indicated more than half the levy increase, about 53 per cent, was driven by factors largely out of County control, including rising costs for external agencies due to provincial cuts, winter maintenance and cost-of-living adjustments for wages.
“We all know the provincial government has a deficit problem … there were some changes in the budget last year that helped them come to resolve that,” CAO Mike Rutter said. “What we have done our best to do is offset those cuts with actual expense reductions as opposed to just asking the taxpayer for more money. Doesn’t really benefit the taxpayer if we just turn around and pass that on to them.”
The increase is significantly lower than the 3.97 per cent projected in the first draft budget Oct. 11. Treasurer Elaine Taylor said this was largely driven by unexpected assessment growth, which increased by 3.34 per cent, more than the initial one per cent expected.
Coun. Carol Moffatt complimented the budget and said the 1.67 figure was quite low. She suggested rounding up to a two per cent increase to take an extra step somewhere in the budget.
“Will that little bit make a difference?” Moffatt asked. “Will it get us that one half-step, quarter-step further towards sustainability?”
But Taylor said she felt the figure should stay lower, noting other tax levy increases coming with lower-tier municipalities. She also cited the financial challenges of year-round residents in the County, who have low average wages.
“Keep it at what it is, only because we’re very close to sustainability and I think we have to consider the people that live here year-round,” Taylor said.
Warden Liz Danielsen agreed.
“We’re starting to hear a little bit about what we’re looking at in the lower tiers,” she said. “We need to hold off.”
Social housing funding
One of the larger parts of the levy increase is more money being spent on affordable housing, about $180,906. That includes $75,000 for planning new capital projects.
Coun. Brent Devolin said several conversations are ongoing with developers and organizations about beginning new housing projects.
Council discussed how to direct housing forward and the possibility of a new County-centred committee.
“A big portion of this right now is driven by CKL (City of Kawartha Lakes) and committee members that sit on that one,” Coun. Patrick Kennedy said. “We’d like to see some movement on this. Is $75,000 the right number? We don’t know. I just think we need more meat on this chicken.”
“We do need to maybe have a broader conversation about the approach we want to take,” Danielsen replied.
Transit fund gets a boost
The County budget includes $50,000 to be put into a reserve to start a future transportation system, adding to the approximately $43,000 placed there this year.
Staff estimate starting a system could cost between $190,000-$300,000. “2020, we’re not going to be able to move forward much for 1,000 reasons,” Coun. Cec Ryall said. “Looking at 2021-22 as realistic.”
Kennedy asked whether lower-tier municipalities might be able to apply for the County’s funding. He put forward the idea of the lower-tier taking more transportation on.
“It’s something I think we should be looking at. If the elephant’s too big to take the whole County on, is there some kind of partnership between upper and lower, to deal with even a portion of the problems?”