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Norfolk council keeps controversial reserve fund

An attempt to dismantle a controversial reserve fund fell short during Day 5 of Norfolk County’s levy-supported budget deliberations last week.

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At issue was a $1-million “council initiative” fund that the new Norfolk council established in 2019 as a go-to source of money for spot projects that move the county forward.

Distroscale

The fund was designed to be spontaneous and has no fixed objective. This has prompted criticisms that this is idle money Norfolk should put to work during tough economic times.

“I do not agree with a ‘council initiative fund’ whatsoever,” said Delhi Coun. Mike Columbus.

“If there is going to be that kind of reserve, there should be terms-of-reference around it.”

A bid to eliminate the fund failed in a 5-3 vote after Mayor Kristal Chopp said there are opportunities on the horizon for which council should be ready.

She cited, as an example, a second round of federal and provincial funding for high-speed internet in under-serviced rural areas as part of the South-Western Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) initiative.

“This one is a massive priority for this community,” Chopp said, adding the most recent information suggests another $68 million could be coming from senior governments. Norfolk’s share for Round 2, the mayor said, would be in the range of $2.7 million.

Council agreed greater definition is needed. To that end, CAO Jason Burgess was directed to draft terms-of-reference for the reserve. He will report back in February.

There was an estimated $718,600 in the reserve fund at the end of 2020.

The most recent draw involved $250,000 to underwrite community initiatives proposed by Norfolk’s Economic Recovery Task Force, a civilian group with expertise in a number of fields that suggested projects Norfolk should undertake in preparation for post-pandemic times.

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During last Tuesday’s budget discussion, Chopp expressed disappointment about recent commentary in the community regarding the fund. She was especially concerned to see some refer to it as “a slush fund,” which she says is defined as a reserve account kept for “illicit” purposes.

In other budget developments on Jan. 26:

  • The South Walsingham waste transfer station will close for four months over the winter going forward. As well, the minimum flat-rate fee for dumping garbage will rise to $20. Total estimated savings: $12,200. A public works report said the waste transfer station in Simcoe is much busier than the station near Port Rowan and will remain as a year-round alternative for residents of south-west Norfolk.
  • Norfolk will remain a member of the South-Central Ontario Region (SCOR) Economic Development Corporation for 2021 but plans to exit at the end of the year. Total savings in annual dues post-exit: $25,000. Norfolk was a charter member when SCOR was established in 2010. Along with Norfolk, members include Brant, Elgin, Middlesex and Oxford counties. SCOR’s mandate is to plan and co-ordinate regional issues, implement regional economic development strategies, identify funding sources at the provincial and federal level and partner with them on projects, and serve as a regional catalyst for investment. Norfolk County intends to explore lobbying options elsewhere this year by rejoining the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

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