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County records surplus, sparking debate about taxes, choices

Deputy mayor questions why taxes are rising in wake of surplus, coupled with $12-million investment in reserves; 'Residents are suffering'
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The final 2018 numbers are in, and the County of Simcoe’s finances are better than expected.

According to a report discussed at the committee of the whole meeting earlier this week, the county recorded a surplus of $1.9 million at the end of 2018.

However, what that surplus means can vary depending on who you ask.

Bradford West Gwillimbury Deputy Mayor James Leduc questioned the numbers.

“When you look at revenue, we came out ahead with more than $30 million in revenue. This budget was quite all over the place. We put $12 million in reserves,” he said. “The $1.9 million doesn’t really reflect the actual budget. We had greater revenue than we actually anticipated.”

“That’s quite a bit of money given by the residents of Simcoe County. I think there’s a better way to tighten this budget up, in my mind, which feeds into the regional government review,” Leduc added.

According to the report, the surplus is due to positive variances in long-term care user fees and provincial funding of long-term care homes, utilities, in-year operational process efficiencies, interest, WSIB rebates, and higher-than-anticipated HST recovery.

“In my mind, there was no need to increase taxation in Simcoe County with the money we’re collecting through growth. (The growth) we’re going through is astronomical,” said Leduc.

“Residents are suffering. We are one taxpayer all together. We need to dig deeper into the budgets and find out why we have such a surplus at the end (of the year).”

Trevor Wilcox, general manager of Corporate Performance at the County of Simcoe sympathized with Leduc’s interpretation of the numbers.

“I realize it can be tough to see where everything is coming from. From an overall perspective, we have a $1.9 million surplus. It’s coming from a few areas,” said Wilcox.

“We’ve seen interest rates jump from 1.5 to over two per cent. That was a significant amount of increase in revenue. But, the substantial amount the councillor is talking about is something we don’t see every year. The money that goes into the reserve; it’s not money we can necessarily bank on.”

While Wilcox did concede that there has been growth in some areas, he said staff put the extra funds into contingency reserves as per council’s direction.

“That reserve is used for the future, such as reducing our debt and our long-term asset management plan. Those are things we have to do because of generational equity. If we reduce that, we’re going to encourage debt later on,” he said.

Wilcox pointed to many of the performance indicators included in the report.

For example, over the past five years, Ontario Works cost-per-case has levelled out, the Simcoe County Paramedic Services costs per call has only increased one per cent, the paramedic services cost per hour of operation has seen a two per cent increase and in long-term care, the compound annual growth rate has been three per cent.

“That is not indicative of an operation that is out of control or unsustainable. I would say that we are running a pretty tight ship,” said Wilcox. “I would submit to you respectfully that we have a very good operation and that this is reflected in this report.”

Collingwood Mayor Brian Saunderson had a different take on the numbers.

“I just want to confirm... the $1.9 million, in terms of the overall budget, how does it compare as a percentage of the budget?” he asked.

The total County of Simcoe 2018 budget for operating and capital expenses was $510 million.

“It’s 0.34 per cent,” said Wilcox.

“So with a budget of over $500 million, we were over by less than one per cent. I think that’s a good news story. I congratulate staff on their precision. It’s admirable,” said Saunderson.

The committee voted to receive the report for information.

To read the full report, click here.


Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings nine years of experience to her role as regional reporter for Village Media, primarily covering county matters, court, Collingwood and Barrie matters
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