By David Judd
Council implements freeze on size of Norfolk County staff at 752 employees
THE average Norfolk home-owner will pay $55 more in property taxes this year.
The average home assessed at $220,500 will pay $2,646, up $4.62 a month over 2016.
County council plans to collect $79.6 million in property taxes in 2017, up 3.5 per cent from $76.9 million in 2016.
How can Norfolk County need 3.5 per cent more money than last year but charge you just 2.1 per cent more on your property taxes?
Two things have helped ease the pain.
Norfolk expects to pay 1.7 per cent less this year for public and separate schools.
And construction of new buildings increased property assessment by three-quarters of a per cent so there’s a larger tax base to share the burden.
Mayor Charlie Luke was pleased with the 2.1 per cent increase for homeowners.
It’s in line with the cost of living and property tax increases of 2.1 per cent last year and 2.3 per cent in 2015.
County councillors had a tough slog over four days of deliberations.
“It’s been a long haul but we’re not too bad,” Mayor Luke told The Maple Leaf at the end of budget deliberations on Monday.
Mayor Luke said this year’s budget was the toughest and longest he’d seen in more than 35 years in municipal government.
“Each year we’re getting deeper into the weeds trying to find $1,500 cuts” on $80 million of proposed property taxes, he said.
Council cut $1.5 million from proposed taxes of $81.2 million.
Many cuts were relatively small, for example, eliminating $4,000 proposed to replace two benches in front of the county office in Simcoe.
At least one cut — removing $200,000 from the budget to keep roads clear of snow — is a gamble that winter storms will go easy on Norfolk.
And council didn’t finalize its biggest cut.
On Monday it asked staff to find $250,000 in unspecified savings to be approved at a council meeting next Tuesday or possibly the week after.
Highlights of budget cuts include:
o $105,000 to be cut from the health and social services budget of $9.8 million;
o $34,900 cut from the county libraries’ budgets;
o $90,000 cut from the county’s $800,000 budget for conferences, training and memberships;
o $75,000 to repave the parking lot at the Talbot Gardens arena in Simcoe deferred until next year;
o $90,000 to replace light standards and lights at ball diamonds cut;
o $25,000 cut from a $50,000 budget for playground equipment in Delhi;
o $30,000 cut from Norfolk County’s $493,000 budget for mileage;
Councillors rejected Port Rowan Coun. Noel Haydt’s suggestion of cutting $100,000 in spending at Norview Lodge in Simcoe.
Councillors also rejected Mayor Luke’s proposal to use $250,000 from Norfolk’s legacy fund to lower taxes.
Treasurer John Ford called the proposal short sighted because council would have to find $250,000 again next year to avoid increasing taxes by that amount in 2018.
Councillors did agree to give $500,000 in interest from the legacy fund to Norfolk General Hospital.
It’s the second year of council’s promise to donate $500,000 a year for 10 years to the hospital’s $13-million renovation project.
The legacy fund, built on $67 million from the sale of Norfolk Power, produced $2.9 million in interest in 2016.
Councillors approved a freeze on the size of Norfolk’s staff. Managers may replace staff who retire or leave their jobs.
But the number of full- and part-time staff must stay at its present level of 752, unless council agrees to add employees.
Council added $25,000 to the proposed budget of $125,000 to replace old sidewalks.
And council added $23,000 to cover a new temporary contract for Sharp Bus Lines to provide vehicles for Ride Norfolk.
Port Dover Coun. John Wells told council that his goal had been to keep this year’s property tax increase at no more than 2.1 per cent for homeowners.