/MH projecting surplus despite pandemic

MH projecting surplus despite pandemic

By Chad Ingram

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Minden Hills’ director of finance is reporting a large surplus for the township so far in 2020.

A report on the municipality’s finances from finance director Lorrie Blanchard received by councillors during a Sept. 10 committee-of-the-whole meeting showed that as of the end of July, there was a surplus of more than $760,000 for general operations, and one of more than $150,000 for the township’s water and wastewater operations, for a combined total of nearly $920,000.
Minden Hills also had a surplus of some $900,000 for 2019.

While in some communities revenue losses and additional expenditures have some municipalities anticipating deficits as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Blanchard’s report shows that due to continued staffing
shortages, along with  delayed purchases, facility closures and service reductions as a result of the pandemic, it appears the township is heading for a large surplus.

“I would say the biggest driving force this year, of course, is COVID-19,” Blanchard told councillors during the Sept. 10 online meeting.  
For months there were reduced operations at the township’s landfills, as well as associated communications activities, and Blanchard’s report showed more than $160,000 of the surplus being accrued there. There was another $70,000 for recycling, nearly $30,000 in unspent advertising, nearly $25,000 in conference and education money that was not spent, and some $45,000 for consulting and legal fees also unspent.

A number of delayed equipment purchases as well as delayed repairs and maintenance work contributed to the surplus, as did wages and benefits for unfilled staffing positions, to the tune of more than $320,000.
While the township did accrue some $83,000 worth of COVID-19-related expenses, “that has been offset by the funding received,” Blanchard explained.

In August, it was announced that the province would provide a combined total of $2.8 million in COVID-19 relief funding to Haliburton County and its four lower-tier townships, with Minden Hills receiving $402,200.
“As we progress through the year, we will only bring in the amount of money that is required to offset year-to-date expenditures,” Blanchard said, explaining that department heads had recently been asked to review all of their departmental spending and to keep tracking all COVID-19-related expenses.

“Based on this, and based on the fact that we are still in the midst of this pandemic, and things are still not going according to plan, I think I would like to get by the next committee-of-the-whole [meeting] . . . some idea of what the various department heads feel is actually happening with their budgets,” said Councillor Bob Carter. “Do we have some projects that we normally would have completed in July, that we’re now going to do in November? How much of this present surplus is going to be used up by the various departments?”

“One of the things, obviously, is that wages and benefits, you know, we still have vacancies, and in fact, we have more vacancies now than we did when this report was written, so that number is probably not going to be used up . . . but I am concerned about other projects,” said Councillor Bob Carter.
A reconstruction of Scotch Line Road, for example, is being pushed back until 2021.
Former economic development, destination and marketing officer Emily Stonehouse resigned from the township in early September for another opportunity.

“I guess I would like to have this report updated next month and then to also hear from the department heads, what their budget is going to look like through the end of the year, so that we can be prepared going into our budget time, and have a true picture of what our situation is,” Carter said.
Blanchard said that process is underway, and that a list of affected capital projects is being compiled.

“I suspect there are going to be some items on that list that we are going to need some direction from council in terms of potentially moving the funds that were going to be used from taxation for those activities into reserves so that they can be carried forward in the 2021 budget,” Blanchard said.
“As for a forecast, yes, that as well, because normally we’d bring that forward to council in October,” Blanchard continued, adding it was her opinion the township would be looking at a year-end surplus.

“One of the things that we have to be careful of for 2021, is the fact that we can’t have our normal projects plus all the projects that we missed in 2020, we probably just don’t have the physical manpower and administrative power to be able to handle all those projects,” Carter said. “So, we’re really going to have to take a, you know, a hard look at what is realistic. Because there’s no use budgeting for X-number dollars worth of projects when you don’t have the manpower to be able to accomplish that. It just becomes bad budgeting.”