Norfolk settles on budget with 4.4% hike in levy

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Norfolk council found the compromise it was seeking on the 2020 operating budget, settling on a 4.4 per cent increase in the levy.

Council’s budget solution on the seventh day of deliberations includes $2 million in borrowing from Norfolk’s $70-million Legacy Fund. Depending on the size of the 2020 budget surplus, senior staff say it is likely the loan will be repaid by the end of this year.

“Management is gaining increased confidence that the 2020 surplus will be sufficient to pay off this borrowing in 2021,” treasurer Kathy Laplante and treasury colleagues said in a budget report to council on Feb. 16.

“Once the audited 2020 financial statements are available, the surplus will be prioritized to repay as much of the Legacy Fund borrowing as possible.”

The council vote in favour of the solution was 6-1.

Port Dover Coun. Amy Martin cast the lone dissenting vote. Martin opposes borrowing against the principal of the Legacy Fund, which has been council’s policy since the fund was established from the proceeds of the sale of Norfolk Power to Hydro One in 2014.

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Based on his understanding of last year’s surplus calculations, CAO Jason Burgess expressed confidence that the provision to borrow $2 million is a house-keeping measure that will satisfy provincial requirements for the production of a balanced operating budget. Burgess likened this aspect of the budget resolution to a “paper transaction.”

Mayor Kristal Chopp cautioned everyone to avoid over-confidence. She said no one knows what the future holds and that requiring cash from the Legacy Fund is a “possibility” until council has a complete understanding of this year’s budgetary requirement. Council will know where it stands later this year when the county’s independent auditing firm presents its 2020 financial report.

A 4.4 per cent levy increase will produce revenue in the range of $104.5 million. Based on current funding requirements and projections, staff say a 4.4 per cent levy increase this year will likely translate into a levy increase next year in the range of 4.5 per cent. Accounting for new assessment growth in 2020, a 4.4 per cent levy increase translates into an increase in the residential tax rate this year of about 3.9 per cent or about $118 for a residence assessed at $240,000.

Contrary to staff’s initial recommendation in December for a $5-million loan from the Legacy Fund, the resolution council approved Tuesday does not make allowances for borrowing from the Legacy Fund in 2022.

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