By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
For all the departments covered by the Public Works Standing Committee of Northumberland County Council, at least, holding the budget line for 2023 will be problematic.
Associate Director of Operations Adam McCue and Director of Public Works Denise Marshall went over the budget highlights – as they stand in the current preliminary budgets, of which a more final version will be presented to the new county council when it is sworn in – of a number of departments within their purview.
Under transportation, they are seeing a 3.8% increase year over year, and a 100% increase to the dedicated infrastructure levy from 1% to 2% to bring that amount to $1.254-million. Other challenges include an increase to winter-maintenance product costs, and the increase under “utilities” that incorporates higher fuel costs.
Under waste, the budget has increased 4.2% overall, at least in part to adjusting to the relatively new two-stream waste collection. McCue expressed confidence in an eventual pay-off here, both financially and environmentally, with more waste captured and diverted from the landfill. There are other trade-offs, he added – while scrap-metal revenues are up, for instance, insurance for the Material Recovery Facility has risen, as the insurance industry deems MRF a higher fire risk.
Marshall noted that bag-tag revenue is down slightly, with people composting more of their waste and (with the passing of the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic) being more willing to take more of their waste to the Community Recycling Centres. Still, McCue provided figures that show that the average household uses 26 bag tags a year, so the expectation is that a household will put out a bag of garbage every other week.
Under facilities, the increase is largely accounted for by the roof at the former county headquarters at 600 William St., Cobourg. Deputy Mayor Mandy Martin noted that this building is mainly used to house Provincial Offences Court services (often called POA, for Provincial Offences Act), which were downloaded from the province with lower-tier municipalities assuming the costs and retaining the revenues from fines.
“William Street seems to cost us money money, money, and I have yet to see the payback from the POA courts – at what point is this cost-efficient to us?” Martin asked.
“We were certainly hit with revenue downturns during COVID, with less ticketing,” Northumberland Chief Administrative Officer Jennifer Moore pointed out.
At the same time revenues are eroding, Moore continued, expenses have gone up. She expressed hope that, when the province renews the lease agreement for the premises, they will be able to make changes that will put the county on the road to full cost recovery.
Another increase – common in pretty well all departments – comes from salary increases and increases in benefits, following a recent staff-benefits review. And Marshall reported on several new staff positions being proposed.
An Infrastructure Engineer’s position to help with the increased pressures of development would add $94,000 to the tax levy.
A GIS Co-ordinator would support member municipalities under an existing shared-services agreement, which means half of this salary would come from cost recoveries.
An Asset Management Specialist would help with the additional data analysis required to develop the county’s next asset-management plan.
An Environmental Sustainability Officer would help the county move forward with its plan to move forward with its strategy to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
Marshall drew attention to another challenge many county departments face in replacing their vehicles in a time of supply-chain issues. They have learned it will take two years to replace their plow trucks, for example, so they have to plan ahead to see not just what vehicles will need replacing soon, but which ones will have to be replaced over the next two years.
She did have one good-news item to share – they are no longer asking for a $500,000 increase to the annual transportation funding levy, thanks to a timely Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund grant.
So, Committee Chair Brian Ostrander summed up, “I am looking at a 2% tax increase, give or take, for public works