By Chad Ingram
Haliburton County councillors passed the municipality’s 2016 budget during a Jan. 27 meeting and that budget includes a $10000 grant for the Haliburton Highlands Outdoors Association for the operation of the Haliburton fish hatchery.
The budget totals about $21 million approximately $14.3 million of which will be levied through taxation.
The county tax rate will increase by 3.85 per cent for 2016 or from $177.85 to $184.68 for every $100000 of assessment on residential properties and from $263.70 to $273.83 for every $100000 of assessment on commercial properties.
Two per cent of the increase will contribute $280000 to the municipality’s reserves which are sitting at less than $4 million heading into 2016.
The Haliburton Highlands Outdoors Association which operates the Haliburton fish hatchery had requested a $10000 grant to help with the operation of the facility which sparked discussion at a Jan. 13 meeting of the county’s finance and correspondence committee.
While the county stopped giving grants to outside organizations in 2013 it has continued to provide funding for the hatchery under the auspices of the tourism department.
As a condition of a $10000 grant in 2015 members of the HHOA were to work closely with the tourism department throughout the year to ensure there was communication regarding marketing activities however tourism director Amanda Virtanen said this hadn’t happened and that the department had to actively seek out information on events and programs.
While Algonquin Highlands Reeve and County Warden Carol Moffatt implied the hatchery was getting special treatment with continued funding Dysart et al Reeve Murray Fearrey said the HHOA was different than other organizations because it has a physical asset that is costly to maintain.
Fearrey also stressed the hatchery puts about 30000 fish into county lakes each year.
Between the committee meeting and the Jan. 27 council meeting there was a meeting with members of the HHOA and Virtanen said the association acquiesced to the county’s request that it do a better job of reaching out and assisting with marketing activities.
The HHOA will receive $10000 for 2016. The money will come from $23000 the county had over-budgeted for benefits. While the draft budget had included an approximately 10 per cent increase in premiums based on an estimate from the county’s benefits consultant benefits premiums will increase by 4.4 per cent.
As always the roads department comprises the largest portion of the county budget at approximately $5.8 million.
EMS and health services has a budget of $3.1 million; social services and housing $1.1 million; the Haliburton County Public Library $790000; administration $530000; tourism $405000; planning $330000; and IT just less than $300000.
More than $210000 is budgeted for the Haliburton County Rail Trail; $140000 for council; $135000 for buildings and $63000 for forestry/conservation.
The 2016 transfer to the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation totals nearly $1 million.
Some councillors including Algonquin Highlands Deputy-reeve Liz Danielsen were not prepared to pass the budget last week wanting more discussion.
“There has been no opportunity for council as a whole to really discuss the budget in depth” Danielsen said.
Danielsen who sits on the county’s medical professional recruitment committee has said while there is some money in reserves for the purpose the county will need to come up with more money for recruitment activities as some doctors begin to leave to Haliburton Highlands Family Health Team.
“We need to make a long-term commitment” Danielsen said.
While Minden Hills Reeve Brent Devolin supported passing the budget last week he said in the future changes needed to be made in the way the budget was brought forward.
If councillors need to have a discussion about physician recruitment funding for example they should be doing that before being asked to approve the budget.
Devolin who pointed to the Lean Six Sigma cost-efficiency exercises undertaken in the City of Kawartha Lakes said there needs to be a larger philosophical discussion about municipal finances.
Devolin pointed to mandated salary and benefit increases for staff.
In the EMS department and health services department where the budget increased from $2.8 to $3.1 million “85 per cent of the increase is wages and benefits” he said.
“This is a monster that’s going to consume us. This can’t continue. I know structurally we need to give this house top to bottom a serious look.”