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Chambers of commerce pitch budget ideas in Norfolk

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Norfolk’s budget struggles have inspired a renewed spirit of co-operation among the county’s commercial and retail associations.

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Representatives of the Simcoe and District Chamber of Commerce and the Delhi and District Chamber of Commerce assured Norfolk council on Feb. 16 that the county’s collective business acumen is at council’s disposal as it works out a long-range plan to put the municipality on a sound financial footing.

Jim Norman, president of the Delhi chamber, presented proposals aimed at delivering more than $1 million a year in savings and revenue. He did so on behalf of the Simcoe chamber and the Waterford Chamber of Commerce.

The proposals focus on corporate advertising and naming rights, energy conservation and production, and new ways of using Norfolk’s recreational, cultural and heritage assets.

“Our proposal has been developed collaboratively and openly in a way that is consistent with our values,” Norman said. “We feel that similar collaboration between the three chambers, user groups and county representatives will provide short- and long-term sustainable solutions and positive impact to the levy and the facilities for years to come.”

In his presentation, Norman suggested Norfolk hire a full-time employee to promote the marketing and advertising potential of municipal property.

“We have huge potential with advertising at the arenas, community halls, museums, public spaces, ball diamonds and soccer fields to name a few,” he said. “We estimate conservatively revenue generation of over $250,000 annually when all sites are considered.”

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In the area of energy, the local chambers identify nearly $850,000 in savings and revenue through investments in rooftop solar panels, micro-generating stations on area water courses, and improved conservation.

In the area of recreation, the chambers have identified a need for indoor walking tracks for individuals maintaining a low-impact, year-round fitness routine. Revenue from the use of these tracks, Norman said, would go straight into county coffers.

Norman made his video presentation during Day 7 of Norfolk council’s 2021 operating budget deliberations. At the end of the session, council approved a $105-million levy budget that will raise residential property taxes by 3.9 per cent.

Due to a history of moderating tax increases through reserve-fund spending, some of Norfolk’s key savings accounts show a deficit. The inability to draw on savings has left Norfolk council in the difficult position of mulling tax increases well in excess of inflation to continue operating business-as-usual.

Staff reports last fall said delivering 2020 programs and services unchanged this year would require a 12 per cent increase in the levy. Accounting for assessment growth last year, a status-quo operating budget in 2021 would’ve required a residential tax increase in the range of 11.5 per cent. The commercial and industrial rate would’ve been much higher.

Sue Downs, president of the Simcoe chamber, says the bad news prompted local chambers to put their heads together.

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“It’s been years since all the chambers have united and worked together,” Downs said on Feb. 18. “We invested many hours submitting a proposal we believe identified opportunities for cost savings as well as revenue initiatives.

“The reason we worked together was we believe it’s important that Norfolk has recreation, cultural and heritage amenities that enhance the quality of life for residents and help attract new people to our area.

“We look forward to working with Norfolk once they review our information.”

In thanking Norman for his input, Waterford Coun. Kim Huffman noted that many of the chambers’ ideas are “common sense” and have been under review for some time.

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