Counties staff face budget plan challenge
Summer holiday break time is almost over for everyone. For the mayors sitting at the counties council table and their staff, it also means time to prepare to face the annual budget planning challenge.
The Aug. 10 committee of the whole session for the United Counties of Prescott-Russell (UCPR) council featured a verbal report from UCPR Chief Administrator Stéphane Parisien and Financial Director Julie Ménard-Brault, on the challenges facing both, staff and the counties council, in working out the 2017 budget plan in time for approval before the end of the year.
“This is only a snapshot, or highlights, of what we’re facing,” said Parisien. “With the help of our treasurer, as she wanted to make council aware of some of the decisions we’ve taken in the past and how they affect our (2017) budget plan.”
Brault noted that over the past four-year period, from 2013 to 2016, the UCPR annual budget planning has resulted in tax rate increases ranging from minus 2.1 per cent to plus one per cent.
The negative tax rate increases, which work out to actual decreases, resulted from various factors, including strict economy measures by staff to sudden windfalls of funds, coming in from unexpected surpluses from various sources. Overall, Brault noted, Chief Administrator Stéphane Parisien outlines to the mayors on counties council, some of the challenges facing staff working on next year’s budget draft. the UCPR has enjoyed an average tax rate increase of 0.4 per cent over the past fouryear period.
She also noted that the UCPR has made a sizeable draw on its various reserves funds total, over the past four years, to help with some budget economy measures. The total UCPR reserves in 2014 amounted to almost $27.5 million. As of this year, the reserves total is about $17.8 million, representing a $9.6 million decrease in the total reserves over a four-year period.
Brault explained that the reserves exist for future capital works and services planning and to also help balance the budget and stabilize the UCPR tax rate when necessary. She noted that the reserves are not intended as a means to avoid high tax rate hikes.
During the 2016 budget planning, she observed, staff needed to draw on $3.3 million in reserves to balance expenses and revenues. That amount, she added, will not be available now for the 2017 budget plan.
Some of the major UCPR expenses during the past four-year period, which will now affect planning for the 2017 budget include: providing $2 million to municipalities for use in their own local budget planning; providing an extra $250,000 in support grant funds to the Centre d’accueil Roger Séguin, in Clarence Creek, for its upgrading project to meet the new provincial construction standard guidelines for retirement and long-term care facilities; purchase of the provincial offences office in L’Orignal and also the heritage grocery store building on John Street in that community. These two buildings are scheduled for future renovation work for later use as counties facilities.
Brault noted several major projects for future budget planning for the counties include: either renovation of the existing Résidence retirement home or development of a new one that meets the new provincial standards for such facilities; upgrading of County Road 17; a new staff office for the Larose community forest; construction or rental for a new regional ambulance station in the counties.
Mayors on counties council spent several minutes, after Brault’s verbal report, discussing whether some items like a new office for the Larose Forest were necessary for the 2017 budget planning and also whether keeping any tax rate increase limited to two per cent or less might be possible for next year’s budget.