Norfolk staff told to tighten belts

Norfolk staff have been asked to bring a sharp pencil to bear on catering plans for the coming year.Norfolk County incurs a fair amount of hospitality expenses related to public events, open houses, council and committee meetings, and the like.This includes not only food and drink but also hall rentals and other overhead that private businesses would write off as client entertainment.The county’s senior leadership team suggested a budget of $152,000 in this area for 2019. However, near the end of its operating budget deliberations Wednesday, Norfolk council cut this to $120,000.Mayor Kristal Chopp says minding pennies is the order of the day given the state of county finances. Chopp had a conversation recently with the head of a major local institution who commented that cookies are no longer offered at their board meetings because money is so tight.From what she’s seen, Chopp says there is room for more careful planning of Norfolk functions.“I’ve been to meetings where a lot of food is thrown out,” Chopp said.Late Wednesday afternoon, council approved an operating budget for 2019 with a nearly 3.2 per cent increase in the residential levy.This means a home in Norfolk with an assessed value of $233,250 will pay $2,786 in property taxes this year. This is an $83 increase over what the same home paid in 2018.The draft budget came in with a proposed increase of 4.7 per cent in the residential levy. All in, the draft budget would have raised $91.5 million in property taxes this year. The budget approved this week will raise $89.9 million across all property classes.Other highlights from this week’s budget deliberations include:As a cost-cutting measure, staff proposed holding the county’s bulky waste item collection program every four years instead of the current three-year rotation. As a service enhancement, council decided instead to stage the large-item pickup every two years. The proposed budget for feral cat control was reduced by $20,000 this year. The spring collection of leaves and garden waste in Norfolk’s urban areas has been scaled back. Council cut $25,000 this week from this budget. The fall collection remains unchanged. Norfolk formally ended its involvement with a hydro-electric generation project at the Quance dam in Delhi. Struck from the budget was $23,000 for this purpose. Council received good news this week with word that the general provincial operating grant this year is $200,000 higher than expected in December. More good news arrived with word that revenue from the county’s recycling program will be about $200,000 higher this year than expected. Council cut a $60,000 pilot program for the introduction of electric vehicles to the county fleet. A tar-and-chip upgrade to a municipal parking lot in Langton was deferred to 2020. Total savings: $50,000. Norfolk’s public works department has been asked to figure out a way to do more engineering work in-house. The goal is to reduce the annual cost of engineering consulting fees. Chris Baird, Norfolk’s general manager of public works, says this could be a challenge. Public works has two engineers on staff plus four technicians for annual construction and maintenance work worth about $80 million a year. [email protected]