by James Matthews
The first draft of Haliburton County’s capital and operating budget this year has a tax increase of almost eight per cent.
The total levy required to maintain county services in 2024 is $23,621,264. That’s a $2.04-million levy increase over 2023 and represents an increase of $18.41 for every $100,000 assessed property value.
That means, according to the current draft, rate payers will face a 7.8 per cent tax increase over last year.
That’s down from an initial 10.44 per cent tax increase when the county’s senior managers began discussion of this year’s expenditures.
Andrea Robinson, the county’s corporate services director, delivered the budget’s first draft to council when it met Jan. 24.
Preparing the county’s 2024 operating and capital budget was a different chore than previous years because of changes in the province and the county in recent years.
Gary Dyke, the county’s CAO, said the work done by his predecessor, Mike Rutter, made his transition into the role smoother. But it was a task to identify existing areas of growth that are necessary to sustain the level of service.
More importantly, county staff have been working to address questions of future capital investment needs of roads and bridges.
“But also on the operational side,” he said. “How we evolve the operations of the (county) to meet up with the new demands and new regulations we are facing going forward.”
One of the greatest budgetary challenges this year was the oppressive inflation rates that have ballooned over the last few years. Some of the things bought by the county such as gasoline and construction materials saw inflation rates of 16 to 20 per cent.
“They were making it quite difficult for us to move forward with our budget,” Dyke said. “It’s very important for us to look at what makes up the budget and how we go forward with the budget.”
To that end, staff developed a new format that moved the budget away from reading spread sheets toward a more narrative means that describes components of the spending plan.
“One of the most important things, if not the most important thing we do on any given cycle is making sure that everybody understands what we’re talking about,” he said. “Getting away from accountant terminology.”
The 2024 budget is broken down to overarching themes: Base level of service, things that need adjusting, line items pre-approved by council, catchup items, and growth items.
“We are also looking at dealing with things around capital budget forecasting,” Dyke said.
There’s a prioritization of spending within the budget, he said.
“There’s a lot of things we either had in the budget or would like to have in the budget but, from a prioritization standpoint, there are other things that need to be done now versus later,” he said.
“That’s kind of the balance that we have. It’s not that we’re abandoning certain things. We’re actually prioritizing when that spending happens.”
Councillor Murray Fearrey, the mayor of Dysart, said he’s happy with the new approach.
“It’s sure nice to get the paper that you can look at and rationalize other than a bunch of figures,” he said.
Coun. Bob Carter, the mayor of Minden Hills, asked about the means used to determine the size of the budget’s monetary slices.
Robinson said those are percentages of the tax levy based on figures provided by departmental senior staff.
“That’s their portion of the levy,” she said.
“That’s their portion of the levy based on what you’ve included in the budget,” Carter said.
“Correct,” Robinson said. “Currently the net revenue and expenses for each division within the 2024 budget right now. That is what would be required from the levy for each one of those.”