Mid-year review shows county finances OK
By Chad Ingram
Haliburton County councillors received a mid-year review of the county’s finances at a July 22 online meeting, a review they had requested in May amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
That review showed the county to be in a stable financial situation, although chief administrative officer Mike Rutter was careful to emphasize at the beginning of that discussion, that the county government realizes that many residents have been left in dire financial straits as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
One option before council was the re-opening of the budget to reduce costs, something that was not recommended by staff, unless the county’s four lower-tier municipalities were going to re-open theirs as well.
The lower-tier municipalities collect taxes on behalf of themselves, the upper tier of the county, and the school board. The municipalities have pushed their property tax deadlines back over the past few months to give residents some leniency amid the crisis.
“Those who have sent out their final bills would actually have to re-bill,” Rutter said, “and I’m not sure the extent of the challenges that would create for them, but in order to pass those savings along to ratepayers, they would have to re-bill their final bills.”
A report from treasurer Elaine Taylor contained a list of projects that, if set aside, could result in potential capital savings of nearly $500,000, as well as operational savings of more than $250,000, should they be required. The county has incurred some unbudgeted expenses as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, such as heightened cleaning budgets and IT expenses for the facilitation of online meetings. However, it has also saved money in other areas due to the pandemic. Money had been budgeted for staff for the implementation of shoreline protection bylaw, for example. The public input process on that controversial bylaw was delayed because of the crisis.
Overall, halfway through the year, the county had spent 48 per cent of its budget.
“So, we are running on budget for the end of year, we don’t have issues with cash,” Taylor told councillors. “The local municipalities appear to be meeting their obligations with respect to the levy payments.”
“Overall, the county is in a very good financial standing,” Taylor said, adding its approximate $4 million in reserves are expected to total $4.5 million by the end of the year.
“To me, the purpose of requesting this report was more, in my mind . . . were there going to be loss of revenues in some areas, we didn’t want a big surprise come November or December, and say, oh, we’re in quite a bit of deficit this year, and then have to pull from reserves,” said Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts, who added she thought the lower-tier municipalities would be hit harder with revenue losses associated with the COVID-19 crisis. “We have lost revenue from parking meters. I know it doesn’t sound significant, but it’s like $50,000 . . . we have loss of revenues at our arenas, we have loss of revenues in other areas. So maybe it’s more the lower tiers that are going to have to be looking at it.”
County Warden Liz Danielsen, also deputy mayor for the Township of Algonquin Highlands, said Algonquin Highlands had taken similar revenue hits in its parks, rec and trails department.