Coun­ties staff face bud­get plan chal­lenge

Vision (Canada) - - Actualite/News - GREGG CHAMBERLAIN gregg.chamberlain@eap.on.ca

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.

—photo Gregg Chamberlain

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