Two councillors were opposed to county budget; vote was 14-2

It has been several years since a county council budget has passed unani­­mous­ly, and the vote on Feb. 27 continued the pattern of the past few years.

Councillor Lou Maie­r­on congratulated finance commit­tee chairman John Green for bringing in a budget that sees a spending hike below 3%, but he was concerned about a cou­ple of items.

The county advanced the Fergus police station project to this year, and Maieron pointed out officials still do not know the cost they will face to help pay for a new court house in Guelph.

“We could have a very large escalation,” he said if the city sud­denly brings on the Provin­cial Offences Act project on line.

Green said staff had check­ed with city officials, and they have not yet selected a site for the building.

“We’re still putting reserves for it,” Green said. “It’s not go­ing forth in a hurry.”

As for the Fergus police sta­tion, Green said the financing this year would not have an effect on the budget in coming years.

Councillor Lynda White, the county liaison to the Police Services Board, said there is billions in infrastructure money available from the federal and provincial governments for “shov­el ready” projects, and she said county staff have al­ready asked if the police station will qualify.

“That’s the reason it was moved forward,” she said, add­ing the current station is very overcrowded.

Maieron said when Guelph de­cides on its courthouse, the county will not have much say, and he fears a big hit for Wellington.

Treasurer Craig Dyer point­ed out virtually all the money the county needs will be in re­serves by the end of next year.

“The only issue is the time the project goes forward.”

Councillor Walter Trachsel said he saw no harm in putting off the Fergus building. “In the real world, if this was the pro­vincial government, you’d be put on a ten year waiting list.”

Warden Joanne Ross-Zuj cited major maintenance work need­ed at the OPP stations in Fergus and Pal­merston, and said the committee had to de­cide how much to spend on buildings when it might be mov­ing soon.

Green said he was not sure he was prepared to amend the budget.

Councillor Chris White said with infrastructure grants com­ing, having cash in reserves for projects “is the way to go.”

Social services

Councillor Gord Tosh, the county liaison to the joint coun­ty and city social services com­mittee noted Guelph coun­cil­lors had defeated the social services budget at a committee meeting with a 4-4 tied vote, and wanted to check the county administration fees. He said he is sure there is no “padding” by the county, and he is com­fortable with the county pass­ing the social services budget.

Since the county runs social services, Guelph, which pays the lion’s share of that budget, will have to comply with the county decision. He said the city vote was more a reporting issue than a bud­get issue.

Councillor Rod Finnie had concerns about plans for facade changes at the county muse­um’s archives project.

Heritage committee chair­man Brad Whitcombe said he would be pleased to have his com­mittee reconsider that issue to preserve heritage features.

Maieron, too, had concerns about the archives project. He said it went from $3.5-million to $4.5-million in the past month, and he was not sure why.

“None of this information came forth at county council,” he said.

Whitcombe read a list of changes his committee prepar­ed, and explained how the project had expanded, and he noted there is work to  be done at Aboyne Hall, too.

Maieron said Whitcombe’s response was “a wonderful report. It’s the first time I’ve heard of it.”

Councillor Jean Innes, too, said the county has a process, and she wondered why changes were being discussed at budget.

“If we approve the budget, we don’t have a chance to dis­cuss [the increase]. It doesn’t make sense to me,” Innes said.

Chief Administrative Offi­cer Scott Wilson pointed out that at the January county coun­cil meeting, the architect had outlined the project, and he added that if council does not like the final cost, it can reject it at the tender call. He said the Clifford library, which had its first tender rejected, “comes to mind.”

Treasurer Craig Dyer told  council that the increase had been part of the January coun­cil package.

Maieron, though, argued that while the increase was in the information, there was no reason given.

He said if councillors are to have faith in the committee sys­tem, they should see that type of information coming to council.

But councillor Chris White said he had noticed the increase in January, and he received the information.

“I asked the treasurer,” he said. “It was open and transparent.”

Councillor Barb McKay said she remembered hearing an explanation of the increase at the January council meeting.

Maieron said all he would have liked to see was a motion that the increase be approved for some stated reasons. “That would have been enough.”

Councillor Bob Wilson con­cluded the debate by stating, “There’s no question in my mind we could butcher the budget until we get it down to zero … This budget is reason­able. It’s ridiculous to chop it.”

Council then voted on the budget and it carried, with Maieron and councillor Mike Broomhead opposed.