County can't keep cutting, CAO says 0
Grey County can't continue to offer the programs it does if county councillors strike budgets based on how spending affects municipal ratepayers, Lance Thurston says.
"County council has worked hard to keep municipal levies down," Thurston told county councillors Tuesday. But, he warned, "we can't continue to just reduce, reduce, reduce levies."
Thurston's remarks came as he made good on a promise made when he was hired as Grey's chief administrative officer -- that he would report his impressions of the county's organization after a couple of months in the position.
Included with Tuesday's agenda was a 33-page paper that Thurston said was "the culmination of 60 days of wandering" in his new job and gleaned from a staff survey, discussions with county staff and representatives from member municipalities, community organizations and agencies.
While he praised Grey as "an extremely well-run organization," he said there has to be a better focus on the longer term.
Thurston noted in the report that over the past four years the county's average tax rate increase has been only 0.435% and actually declined in 2010.
"This has been achieved through a number of strategies, including borrowing from future savings to be gained through the upload of ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) and allocating funds from its Ontario Works caseload reserve fund to offset caseload increases that are to be uploaded in the future . . . Continuing with such a strategy, which many municipalities would welcome, has significant risks for the county corporation," the report says.
"We have to decide what services are required," the level at which the county will provide them and budget for that, Thurston told councillors. "If that doesn't balance then maybe we have to look" at cutting the level of service or dropping programs.
The report also noted that the county "does not have a corporate strategic plan. The absence of strategic direction and an implementation framework . . . hinders more effective, co-ordinated and future-oriented decision-making across all departments and between the county and its community partners.
"A strategic plan would assist in setting county priorities, developing longer-term policies and plans, aligning departmental resources and activities, allocating budget dollars to priority areas, and perhaps most importantly, discontinuing things that are not in keeping with the county's strategic direction."
The report also said that the county's logo, "which was lovingly created some 20-plus years ago," needs to be updated. "Are we projecting the image we think we are?" he asked councillors.
"Defining the county's 'brand' and then communicating that brand through every form of communications and marketing used by the county and its partners is critical to our success," the report says.
"There are a lot of high-level strategic things here (in the report), as well as meat and potato" issues, Thurston said.
The report is available though the county website under the minutes of county council's July 6 meeting.