Ratepayers will see a 7.17 per cent increase on the County portion of their tax bill this year after councillors finalized the budget at a March 13 meeting.

CAO Gary Dyke and director of corporate services Andrea Robinson said it was a decrease on the second draft, which was 7.62 per cent.

They said a finance liaison committee of councillors Bob Carter and Murray Fearrey and warden Liz Danielsen met with them Feb. 16 to look for more efficiencies.

The committee suggested removing the hiring of one EMS supervisor, to save $120,124. They also recommended scrapping the FoodCycler program to slash $83,000. The three also pitched reducing the overall give to the Haliburton County Public Library by $115,000.

Robinson said the $318,154.65 cut means a 2024 levy of $23,261,957.69 – which results in a rate increase of 6.17 per cent. The other one percent comes from the creation of a $220,000 dedicated capital reserve levy.

“The 2024 budget and new dedicated capital levy will be a total cost to the ratepayer of $16.91 per $100,000 of residential assessment,” Robinson said. That is in addition to their municipal and school board taxes.

At the outset of last Tuesday’s meeting, library CAO Andrea Brown presented a third draft of their budget – with $34,260 in cuts, asking for $1,314,801, down from $1,349,061. The cuts included to the book budget, removing some library board per diem fees, dropping non-local newspaper subscriptions, reducing insurance costs, and reduction in Dorset branch mileage. She also pitched using reserves for air filter replacements, iPad replacements and other tech items, and pause a transfer for an asset management plan. She noted the service is doing a library staffing model review to be presented to the board in June.

During a lengthy debate, Coun. Lisa Schell said the library board had a $200,000 reserve and she thought this was the “rainy day” for them to use some of that. Dyke pointed out they could not tell the library board how to spend its money.

As a result, a motion was moved to agree to the $115,000 library budget reduction as suggested by Carter, Fearrey and Danielsen. It passed 6-2 (Cec Ryall and Jennifer Dailloux voted against).

Coun. Walt McKechnie said, “we’re not here to try to get rid of libraries. We’re here representing municipalities and the County of Haliburton. We’re just concerned about $1.2 million budgeted for payroll. We’re not downgrading all the good things you do, but somehow this has got to be brought down a little bit. We have a lot of other issues going on in our community.”

With the EMS decision, the County is hiring one EMS supervisor, but are deferring the hiring of a second. Asked by Dailloux about the impact, chief Tim Waite said with just one, it means “there will be several days without a supervisor at all for any time during the day. It does add additional on-call time for myself and management.” He said once a week every three weeks he works full-time and is also on call. He said those weeks are 24/7 for seven days. He added they will have to be “creative” with staffing that one person.

Fearrey said he thought they would get the second position in the next budget year.

Carter added, “it sucks that we have to cut things out of the budget but there were not many other places to cut, unfortunately.”

As for scrapping the FoodCycler program, Dailloux said one rationale was return on investment, saving money in waste management costs by diverting food waste from landfills. “The idea behind the FoodCycler is to spend a little bit upfront so that we get longer-term savings both in this year and in future years.”

However, Carter said he understood the company did not get federal government funding. He added in Minden Hills, they are seeing the units being put in electronic waste. “The suggested savings may not be what they suggested.”

Coun. Walt McKechnie said “we’re not here trying to get rid of libraries.”