It’s been almost a month since the last council meeting. Surprisingly this week’s agenda has few critical issues to be decided and agreed. The ‘elephant in the room’ of course is the 2013 budget for which the kick-off discussion is scheduled for this Wednesday starting at 6:00 in the Council Chambers. I suggest you be there is you want to understand how they make ‘sausage’. It’s not pretty but it’s worth understanding how and why your taxes went up this year.

Congratulations to Gail MacDonald on the receipt of the Order of Parry Sound. This honour recognizes her many community contributions, most notably with Harvest Share.

I’ve sent a request to council for media credentials to provide better coverage of the council meetings. As it stands now I am unable to attend meetings that are restricted to council and the ‘official’ media. In addition I have been told that I am not permitted to make audio or video recordings of the council meetings despite the fact that the meeting is recorded and rebroadcast by Cogeco, and the local media regularly record portions of the meeting for broadcast. It’s on the agenda this week as a letter.

Agenda Highlights:

5.1 – the Downtown Business Association (DBA) is making a deputation to request town support for its revitalization activities. This includes an investment in physical enhancements to make the downtown more appealing to residents and visitors.

9.1.1 – is a resolution accepting a $7.9 million EMS budget for 2013. The town’s portion of this cost is about $222,000, about 2% higher than last year.

9.2.2, 9.2.3 – are resolutions to accept the various town business objectives for 2013 and the town’s strategic plan. I have not taken the time to read the details of the objectives and will provide a separate overview in a few days after I’ve had a chance to go over it in more detail.

9.4.1 – is another resolution to increase and add planning fees. For the most part these are ‘nickel and dime’ increases that bring our costs up to provincial municipal averages.

9.4.2 – is a resolution to accept an offer of $41,500 for the town property referred to as the ‘former waterworks standpipe property’ on Isabella Street. It’s worth noting that the other bids received fort he property were: $28,000, $16,500 and $8,000. The town believes the high bid is reasonable and acceptable. I wonder though if the process, not necessarily this tender, is flawed. How can there reasonably be a 5-fold difference in the bids if the process is open, transparent and the all participants have the appropriate information? Is the process flawed? Are some of the bidders not sufficiently experienced to make reasonable bids? Even throwing out the high and low bids, there is a difference of almost 80%, too big a difference to make me comfortable with the process. It’s worth reconsidering the tender process as was previously suggested by one of the councillors.

9.4.3 – is a direction to town staff to prepare a by-law that rezones a portion of town owned land north of Canadore College to permit its use for the development of a retirement residence. Personally I’m glad to see additional development in town as long as the development carries its fair share of the municipal costs. The town already has a number of federal, provincial and community facilities that benefit from reduced taxes in consideration of their contribution to local employment. It’s sort of like buying something on sale. It may be a good buy, but you still need to find the money to pay for it.

9.4.4 – is a resolution to approve the Canada Day budget. The net/net is that it will cost the town on the order of $11,000 if a Celebrate Canada grant is received. It will be about $17,000 if the grant isn’t received. There are a few interesting points: the firework themselves cost about $8,000. That’s about $0.50 to $1.00 per person for those who watch the fireworks; a relative bargain in my opinion. Neither the Parry Sound Chamber of Commerce nor the DBA will be contributing financially to this year’s events. I know money is tight at both organizations, but I wonder if their withdrawal from the Canada Day events is a statement of sorts.

9.6.1 – is a direction for staff follow up in regard to supporting the Festival of the Sound’s opening night to the tune of $5,000. This is the 10th anniversary of the Festival’s program at the Stockey Centre.

9.6.2 – is an agenda item to discuss the use of the Fitness Trail as a footpath and snowmobile trail. Right now it’s a moot point given the warm weather and rain, but it’s worth a discussion. I often walk on the trail in the winter and keep my eye out for snow machines. I find the snowmobilers are more courteous than the occasional e-bike riders that sneak onto the trail in the spring, summer and fall.

10.4.1 – is a by-law to allow the town to enter into an agreement with JJ Mackay Canada Limited to provide parking ticket management software. The cost is about $2,400.

10.4.2 – is a by-law to designate the Old Pump House as having cultural heritage value or interest. This follows up earlier by-laws and resolutions. The by-law includes a statement of the heritage attributes.

10.4.3 – is a by-law to enter into a 5-year agreement with the Chamber of Commerce to operate the Town Dock and Big Sound Marina. The Chamber has been operating these facilities for the last few years. This agreement restructures the arrangement and the lease terms. The materials in the council package are not sufficient for me to properly understand the benefits of the agreement to the two parties. In theory the town will receive almost twice as much in 2013, some10% of ‘normalized’ revenue, as it would have under the previous agreement. The actual amount received in 2011 was $6,560, which implies a revenue stream of about $130,000 in 2011. Given that the operation of the two facilities is not a ‘gold mine’ I’m surprised by the change in the terms and only imagine the Chamber feels there will be an increase in revenue for the years to come.

10.6.1 – is a by-law to confirm the proceedings of Parry Sound Hydro Corporation board of directors meetings June 25, July 25 and August 31, 2012. There is no information in these minutes that provides any insight into their operations.

Remember there is a budget meeting on the 16th that you should plan to attend. I’ll be watching the proceedings trying to understand the various staff and council agendas. I’ll also be at the council meeting at the 15th, see you there.

If you want to know what went down last year at council I have compiled all of the council minutes in a single PDF document that can be easily searched.

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