The County began its budget deliberations Jan. 24, with taxpayers looking at a possible 7.81 per cent hike for 2024 if the document were to go ahead as is. It would mean an extra $18.41 per $100,000 of assessment, on top of what they pay to their townships and the school board.

CAO Gary Dyke said inflation is having a major impact, 23 per cent of the total requested levy increase. For example, he said the cost of maintaining vehicles, materials for public works and insurance premiums are all going up substantially. So is the cost of road construction, a five per cent increase to the health unit, more money to the City of Kawartha Lakes for shared programs, and the library is seeking an additional $45,000.

Despite the 7.81 per cent, Dyke said “in comparison to other counties within the Eastern Ontario Wardens Caucus, the County’s tax rate continues to be the second lowest (of 12).” There is also 1.54 per cent of assessment growth.

Of the estimated $32 million in expenses, 44 per cent goes to wages and benefits. Staff are asking for a half-a-million increase for wages and benefits.

Dyke, worried about an infrastructure funding gap, has suggested introducing a specific one per cent tax levy. To go with that, in 2025, he said staff will look to develop a capital project prioritization model.

The library budget garnered a lot of attention at the meeting. They are asking for just over $1.32 million. The primary driver is an increase in monthly programming and operating hours, along with the reintroduction of the Dorset branch in Algonquin Highlands.

Coun. Murray Fearrey questioned the library budget. He said Dysart and Minden, the two largest towns, have one each; with Algonquin Highlands soon to have two (Stanhope and Dorset) and Highlands East four (Cardiff, Gooderham, Highland Grove and Wilberforce).

He said he knows libraries are important, but $1.3 million, on top of what the municipalities pay for looking after the library buildings, concerns him. He asked if staff could research how the County compares to other municipalities.

“I’m not questioning that there’s anything wrong. I’m just questioning how we stack up with others. And are we looking for any reduction in the number…”

Coun. Bob Carter said he’s also a library user, but the increase is substantial. “Is there a way to reduce the amount of staffing that is in the buildings at any one point in time?” he asked.

Factoring in all costs, he said the County is probably spending $2 million on libraries, at $100 a citizen, “and there are other things that we need to be spending money on.”

Warden Liz Danielsen, who sits on the library board, said, “libraries have an extraordinary capacity for other community services. And I think we have to remember it’s not just a matter of books… there’s so many more things that the library service does.”

Dyke said he’d identified staffing gaps, needing an engineering technician, administrative assistant, payroll and benefit administrator, and a business solutions and GIS supervisor. He is also recommending two paramedic supervisors.

“Front line supervision is the industry standard and it has been identified that the County is the only Eastern service without these positions,” Dyke said. “With the continued increased call volume, these positions will assist with the increased workload of the chief and deputy chief and allow for enhanced focus on long-term strategic planning and goals.” He said the impact on 2024 is $240,309.

Carter wondered if they could hire one this year and one next. But coun. Walt McKechnie said his number one priority is healthcare. He supported the hiring and any money that can go towards recruiting doctors and nurses.

Dyke said, “County staff have reviewed and re-prioritized spending and refocused these efforts in the area of sustainable longterm fiscal planning and management. This renewed focus will, in some cases, alter previous areas of spending to mitigate the identified fiscal and economic impacts while being mindful of the need to recognize the impact of tax rate increases on County residents and businesses.”