The discussion at the budget meeting this past Monday was more relaxed and focused. It was also shorter, about two hours. Remember, this summary covers only the key discussion items, it was a two-hour meeting and you really need to be at these meetings if you want all the details.

Previous Meeting Rehash:

See my earlier post for a summary of what was discussed and agreed at the meeting on March 6th. A couple of the topics from that meeting came back for discussion on the 11th.

Bridge repairs: the town has a work plan for more than $1 million related to bridge repairs in town. The intention is to get through the list of repairs over the next ten years or so, with the focus each year on the most urgent items. With that qualification it appears that the Seguin pedestrian bridge repairs, while urgent, constitute only a small portion of the budgeted repairs for 2013. The other, more costly, bridge in need of urgent repair is the longer span of the Cascade Street bridge.

Water meters: this issue came back for discussion but with a reduced budget request – $65,000. This would cover only the hardware costs for about 120 meters. Installation would be done by town staff, presumably taking time from other budgeted items. Council approved the expense for 2013 after much discussion on a split 4/3 vote. (Quick note – whenever you see a 4/3 vote it means council was split 3/3, or 2/2, and the mayor cast the deciding vote.) The councillors who voted against the expenditure argued that this was largely a nice to have (my words) investment that had absolutely no potential for a payback. On this latter point the numbers support their position. The installation of the meters will save the town less than $1,000 per year, all related to meter reading costs.

New Budget Items:

Wastewater infrastructure: The proposed wastewater investments for 2013 were approved with limited discussion. These investments come out of the wastewater reserves, which are paid for through your monthly water bills. The planned wastewater investments for 2103 total about $1 million. Work would start in the Fall to limit traffic issues during tourist season.

Flower Baskets: council agreed to pre-budget approval of $15,000 for downtown flower baskets. Once again we have a pre-budget expense approval request from the councillor who determinedly shot down another councillors pre-budget approval request a couple of meetings ago on the basis that council could not provide such approval on the basis of principle. I guess politicians are allowed to adjust their principles when they need to support a particular pet project.

Communities of Distinction: council was given a ‘heads up’ on an opportunity to market the town through a program called “Communities of Distinction”. This is a television production that proposes to profile Parry Sound as one of a number of ‘towns of distinction’. The cost, ‘to cover expenses’, would be about $25,000. Council agreed to consider this investment subject to further investigation and due diligence.

Tree Replacement: council briefly discussed tree replacement in the context of the many trees that needed to be cut down on Tower Hill. The Director of Public Works indicated that a proposal for tree replacement would be coming to council in the next couple of meetings.

Transit expenses: this was a topic that involved a review of the use and cost figures for the years through 2012. The net/net is that the per ride cost to the town for the service in 2012 was high, about $10 for the regular transit users, and almost $50 for the users of the specialized transit. Costs for the specialized service are expected to increase considerably in 2013, perhaps as much as $60,000. Council requested that staff look at what other communities are doing to address the challenge of the new regulations.
An aside here. This is an issue that was supposed to come back to council with a recommendation in September 2012. What are we doing getting the bad news in March 2013 without a firm list of alternatives and a recommendation? This is an issue that has been neglected, perhaps because it’s ‘not easy’. Let’s get off our asses and do the necessary analysis and research to come forward with a recommendation. If necessary hire a consultant experienced with these issues. It needs to be done when there is time to reflect and review, not as part of the 2013 budget discussion crunch.

Bottom Line: my understanding is that the budget gap is about $215,000, including a 1.5% increase in the levy. Council discussed the use of the rate stabilization fund to limit the levy increase, as well as the impact of a slightly higher levy increase. No decision was made with regard to where the additional funds might come. I also did not hear when the next budget meeting was scheduled, I think it was suggested that it would be in April.

It’s worth noting that these council budget discussions cover a smaller part of the 2013 Parry Sound operating expenses. These other costs, let’s call them Ongoing Expenses, are subject only to internal staff review. Reviewing these expenses I find that the greatest changes in expenses (greater than 10%) versus 2012 budget are are:

Municipal Government: +16% (up $31,000)
Parking: +15% (up $22,000)
Commercial & Industrial Development: +26% (up $119,000)

In many cases the individual budgeted costs for 2013 are down relative to 2012. Overall budget costs for these Ongoing Expenses are a little below the actual expenses for 2012 (about 1% less) and down 7.6% from the 2012 budget.

That’s it. I’ll post as more 2013 Parry Sound budget information becomes public. But I will post up my thoughts in the next few days concerning the McSweeney analysis of the relative levies for towns in Northern Ontario.

Tower Hill After the First Cull of Dead Trees (click image for larger view)