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Council gets down in the weeds

Norfolk Mayor Kristal Chopp wants to get down “into the weeds.”“Into the weeds” is the place staff told the previous council to avoid during its annual levy-supported budget deliberations.Former Simcoe Coun. Doug Brunton and former Port Rowan Coun. Noel Haydt asked on repeated occasions for access to the micro-budget documents that broke down the numbers in the general budget document.Former CAO David Cribbs famously pointed out that this was a bad idea. With all senior managers together in the council chamber, Cribbs said staff’s time costs the municipality $3,600 an hour.Lengthy debates over $500 items when staff is costing $3,600 an hour is not a good use of tax dollars, Cribbs said. That was getting down “into the weeds” and council did not need to go there.During her opening address on Day 1 of the levy-supported budget Wednesday, Chopp told council she has cracked the inner sanctum and has gained access to the micro-documents behind the general documents.In other words, someone on council has finally got down to the place where the budget rubber hits the financial road. Chopp intends to make a place there for herself and her council colleagues.“This isn’t a want,” she said. “It’s a need. This will become a transparent organization and council will have access to this information.”Chopp added that “These budget binders are never going to look the same, at least not during my term.”Chopp said Norfolk’s treasury department has fine accounting software and council members will soon receive training in how to access and use it on a daily basis. With this tool in hand, council members will be able to parse and examine every proposed expenditure come budget time.Council members will soon have real-time access to the same computer programs and the running totals of debits and credits as they ebb and flow through the treasury department’s ledgers.Senior executives with every $250-million company have this information at their finger tips, Chopp said, adding it’s time Norfolk council had it as well.In her presentation, Chopp re-iterated her position that Norfolk is in dire financial shape and must take steps to right the ship before it is too late.She noted that previous councils have masked the true state of the county’s finances by drawing down reserves.Treasurer James Johnson agreed, noting that Norfolk has only $1.5 million left in its contingency reserve fund. Another year like 2018, Johnson said, and the contingency reserve will be exhausted.Johnson added that Standard and Poors has threatened to lower Norfolk’s credit rating if the county does nothing to address its mounting debt load.Chopp noted that the Norfolk County website is advertising 30 full-time positions.With wages, salaries and benefits being the county’s largest expenditure, Chopp said any discussion of Norfolk’s finances should begin with an across-the-board hiring freeze. Each hiring decision, Chopp said, should come to council for final approval.Day 2 of Norfolk’s levy-supported budget deliberations begins 9 a.m. Thursday in the council chamber at Governor Simcoe Square. Chopp said council will examine the 2019 budget for as long as it takes to get the financial plan it wants. This will not be a fast process, Chopp said, and more days could be scheduled as [email protected]

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