County budget jumps 3.91% to $168-million

In the end, county council managed to lop off enough spending to get its 2008 spending increase to just below four per cent.
Council had faced an in­crease of just over five per cent a month earlier, and had sent all committee’s budgets back for final consideration.
Councillors came up with enough cuts to drop the increase to 4.03, and at council on Feb. 28, they chop­ped a proposed expenditure on laptop computers and high speed internet for themselves. That $75,000 cut was the final one, and the budget was later passed unanimously.
Despite being at the podium to take questions for over an hour, finance committee chair­man Mike Broomhead declared after council, “It went quite well.”
He said by having the com­mit­tees take one final look at cuts prior to the meeting they had an opportunity to ask ques­tions, and that helped reduce spending.
“Everybody got answered,” he said, adding, “Maybe they didn’t like the answer.”
He added that all the ques­tions that suddenly arose at coun­cil council were “all new,” and had not been ask­ed in the final committee reviews.
“We’ve set the tone for next year’s budget, and, at the end of the day, you’ve all got to agree,” he said. “It was a pretty good budget. We’ve knocked it down. The days of zero per cent increases are pretty well gone.”
Warden John Green said everything was “done smoothly and transparently, as far as I’m concerned. The big thing was making sure that what we took out doesn’t affect the base.” Do­ing that could mean big increases in coming years, Green said.
“They were pretty careful not to do that,” the warden said, adding that councillors used the guidance of county Chief Administrative Officer Scott Wilson and Treasurer Craig Dyer.
Wellington will spend a total of $168-million in 2008, with $145.1-million going for operations, and another $23-million for capital expendi­tures.
Among the capital expendi­tures are:
– $150,000 this year for a new county archives that will be built in 2009 at an estimated $3.6-million total;
– 55 units of affordable housing, for which the county is seeking land, at a total cost of $8.5-million;
– $10.6-million in roads and bridge work, which included $1-million for the Princess Eliza­beth bridge replacement in Mapleton, near Macton, and another $400,000 for the Carroll Pond drainage project, of which $600,000 was bud­geted two years ago;
– $400,000 to Hospice Well­ington, for its ten-bed residen­tial care facility;
– the first stages of reno­vations for libraries in Elora, Harriston, and Mount Forest; and
– $200,000 for a transfer station site selection study.
Among other highlights of the budget are:
– two more police officers for the county OPP;
– the upload of the Ontario Drug Benefit Plan to the pro­vince, which saves a total of $1.3-million, of which Well­ing­ton saves $400,000 and Guelph saves the remainder;
– reaching a total of 760,000 trees being planted in the coun­ty through the Green Legacy program;
– the continuation of the rural pick-up pilot program, at an estimated $400,000;
– $350,000 to the social housing reserve fund to assist in the development of new af­fordable social housing unites;
-$350,000 for the continu­ation of the Rural Water Quality Program; and
– $500,000 for the hospital grants reserve fund.
County Treasurer Craig Dyer said the 55 unit social housing project will be funded by three levels of government, with the federal government paying $26,600 per unit, for a total of $1.5-million; the pro­vince paying $43,400 per unit, for $2.4-million, and the re­main­der paid by the county.
He added that the county is still searching for a site for the project, and is looking in Cen­tre Wellington. The goal is to find a site and design the pro­ject this year, and build the units in 2009.
When council passed its bud­get, it also approved its five year plan. Council is looking at a 5% increase next year; 4.55% in 2010; 3.6% more in 2009; and then a 4.9% increase in 2012.