Impossible, impractical to look at just one year

When it comes to planning for the future, it may well be impractical to plan just one year at a time.

Wellington County treasurer Craig Dyer said the county first started creating five year plans back in the 1980s.

At that time, the county was facing some significant capital expenditures, he said.

“As a result of that, there was a need to look beyond the current year. A lot of the focus at budget time tends to be the year the budget is being approved for. But when you have significant levels of capital expenditure, it’s impossible to do that. You need to look at it on a longer term basis.”

He said “You need to understand how the projects are going to be financed and what the impacts are going to be beyond the current year.”

“Certainly now, it would be impossible and impractical for us to look just one year from a budget perspective.”

He said “there are even times when a five year plan does not seem quite enough, but for the most part five years still continues to work for the county.”

Dyer commented that all the issues over the years only magnified the need for this type of planning.

He pointed to the 1998 local services realignment issues such as Ontario Works, aspects of social services and ambulance services and other services which were downloaded to municipalities.

He then pointed to county restructuring which brought in responsibilities for libraries, then the county took over policing and waste management.

“All these things have added to scope of  services that the county provides, and obviously to the budget as well.”

He said that is made clear by a comparison of the Wellington County levy from 1992 to 2010.

In 1992, the county levy was around $10 million, Dyer said.

Five years later, it was around $11 million with most of the change attributed to roads and bridges at the time.

In 1998 with the downloading of service costs to municipalities, the levy doubled.

Another spike happened in 2001 as the county dealt with the costs of policing, waste management, direct service of social housing.

By 2010 the county levy now sits at around $70 million, Dyer said.

“We’re doing a detailed operating budget for the current year, a high level operating budget for the next four, and a complete list of capital projects over that five year period.”

“What that gives us is an idea of the capital financing, of debt servicing, about what debt levels are going to be and ultimately what is the impact to the taxpayer over that period of time.”

While the impact to taxpayers is the bottom line, he said just as important is what the debt levels look like and how much the county is relying on long term financing.

“I’m pleased to say we’re not in any trouble at all in respect to how we fund capital.”

But because of the scope and magnitude, we need to look well beyond the current year, Dyer said.

He explained the budget is impacted by a number of factors from council decisions to provincial directions and policy.

Other factors include economic factors and service demands.

Dyer stressed that “Decisions made in 2011 can very well have impacts in 2012 and beyond.”