Posted on Wednesday May 8, 2019 at 12:11 p.m.
Counties budget needs a rewrite
The counties needs a new budget plan for this year and it’s all thanks to Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government.
Finance Director Julie Ménard-Brault (see photo) told mayors at the United Counties of Prescott-Russell council (UCPR) committee of the whole session Wednesday that her staff has to redo the 2019 budget after a series of notices about changes in provincial funding support for various programs and services.
“We’re going to be doing three budgets in the same year,” said Ménard-Brault, during a later interview, as she noted that the 2019 budget was finished and approved in February and her staff was going to start advance preparation for the 2020 budget plan.
Some of the letters and emails UCPR finance staff received either state that expected support funding increases for some programs will not happen or that last year’s funding levels are being cut as part of the province’s own budget restraint plans. Ménard-Brault cited the Prescott-Russell emergency services and childcare programs as examples.
The 2019 budget included an expected 1.15 per cent increase in support money for emergency services, which operate the regional ambulance program. Instead provincial support remains the same as for the 2018 budget, with no increase in emergency service funding.
Ménard-Brault also noted that the counties’ childcare service program received 100 per cent funding from the province in the past. But the most recent notice from Queens Park is that provincial support is now cut to 80 per cent. How that will affect the counties childcare program is unknown at present.
The finance department is scrambling to work with other departments on reviews of 2019 budget lists. A new budget report should be ready for UCPR council in June but how big a change it will be from the one approved in February is unknown.
Ménard-Brault confirmed there will be no changes to property tax rates because those are already approved and the notices sent out to property owners. She also noted that a deficit budget is not an option as provincial law prevents municipal and regional government from running deficits.
“We’ll have to look at something else,” she said. “Use reserves, or do some financing next year instead, or we have to make some cuts.”
“I’m sure we’ll be able to work around it,” said Warden Robert Kirby during a later interview. “It just makes things uncomfortable.”