Recent editions of the North Star and Beacon Star report some residents are claiming that they intend to sell their home in Parry Sound and head out to the ‘suburbs’ where the taxes are lower.

But is the cost of living really lower? Nah! You’re just swapping one set of expenses for another. If you want to move to the ‘burbs’ do it for quality of life, not to save money.

The ‘burbs’ do offer lower taxes, and there is no charge for water, but it all comes at a cost. About $10,000 for real estate fees to sell, the cost of a mover, the cost of driving to high-priced Parry Sound for shopping, appointments, work and school/social activities. The ‘burbs’ do provide additional mosquitos and black flies, bears, a septic bed, a well and water testing, and …. You don’t get affordable internet access, gas utilities, easy access to medical and dental resources, a two-minute drive to the hospital, grocery stores, …

The only real reason to live in the ‘burbs’ is because it makes for a much shorter commute, or you want to enjoy nature up close and personal. It’s not a money saving proposition in any way, shape or form for the average person. I guess it would be cheaper if you were willing to channel your inner hermit, but that probably doesn’t apply to most of us, at least not those of us who still need to work.

A bunch of Parry Sounders are getting their ‘knickers in a twist’ about a potential 5% tax rate increase, which has recently been lowered to a targeted 3.8%. A 2% increase last year, instead of a 0% increase, and a 2% increase this year would have pretty much led to the same effective increase as is now being proposed.

Parry Sound Council is facing a little bit of a ‘perfect storm’ in terms of budget challenges. The storm is not their fault, but they could have been much better prepared.

I remember the proposal for a 2% rate increase last year was rejected by a majority of the Councillors. There was a minority who wanted the increase, but it was an election year and the ‘no tax in 2014’ group perhaps wanted to offer the residents a bit of a break. In no way did the decision to not raise rates have any impact on Councillor’s electability. It was just a Council who at that time felt that life was good and they were in a position to pass on a tax break.

So how much does a 2% tax increase impact taxes? The current residential tax rate is .011 (2014), not including the school board taxes. This translates into a property tax of $2,200 for a property with a $200,000 assessment. A 2% increase is an additional $44 per year, 3.8% means an additional $83.60. Not a trivial amount, but certainly not a life changing increase.

The same $200,000 property in Seguin would carry a tax rate of .035, about a third of Parry Sound’s. (Some of that is because until 2015 they carried very little OPP expense.) So a $200,000 property in Seguin would pay about $700 in municipal property taxes, a savings of $1,500 per year versus Parry Sound. A move to Seguin, after selling your property, would probably pay off in about 8 years and be cheaper thereafter. But expect taxes to go up, or services to go down, with the phasing in of higher OPP charges over the next five years. Seguin is the ‘property tax haven’ in the area, McKellar taxes would be about 23% higher, McDougall about 47% higher and Carling would be about 6% higher than the Seguin rates.

But unless you don’t work in Parry Sound, or shop here, or have kids in school in Town, a bigger issue is the cost of gasoline and the added vehicle mileage. For some perspective a $0.10 per liter increase in the price of gas adds up to an additional $5.00 to 6.00 or so per fill up, or perhaps $300 per year. And gas bounces around that much on what seems like a weekly basis. If you are planning to move to the ‘burbs’ the price of gas, and vehicle depreciation, are more important cost considerations than a 2% or 5% increase in your property taxes.

The ‘perfect storm’ I mentioned earlier is a product of two issues, one of which should not have caught Parry Sound Council by surprise. This is the drop in revenue from our ‘big box’ stores. They have been protesting their assessments provincially for the past five years or so and are on the verge of getting a large reduction that will impact Parry Sound to the tune of a couple hundred thousand dollars per year in lost revenue. And on top of that the Town will be required to refund their overpayment for the last four years, an amount on the order of $1 million in total. Ouch, ouch, ouch. But this should not have been a surprise to Council and their deliberations on tax rates last year. There should have been an accrual for a portion of the likely repayments; but there wasn’t.

Also hurting is the reality that the OPP savings are not what was expected. The Province is phasing in the savings to municipalities like Parry Sound over a five-year period and on top of that limiting the actual amount of annual savings. And those limited savings we were hoping to enjoy have been offset in a large part by the addition of Provincial Court costs to the Parry Sound OPP bill. That can fairly be called a surprise, but it doesn’t represent an additional cost for the Town, it’s just not as much of a savings in costs as was expected.

Don’t like the taxes? Get involved and let the Town know where the cuts should be made. Cut back snow removal? Stop cutting grass in the parks? Close the Stockey Centre and/or the Bobby Orr Community Centre? Delay infrastructure repairs and updates? It will all save money and lower taxes. A dirty secret is that it’s not the annual capital investments that cost the most in Parry Sound; it’s the costs related to the day-to-day operation of the Town. But those are figures that are discussed behind closed doors. There is nothing nefarious about this, the figures are available to all of us, it’s just more convenient to have Staff review and propose an operational budget as a package. And given the attendance at council meetings and budget discussions I’m pretty sure people don’t really care enough to invest their time and effort in the issue. They just prefer to bitch and moan.

Don’t like the proposed tax increase? There are three realistic options:

  1. Get over it and pay your taxes and consider them a bargain for the services you receive.
  2. Get involved and help the Town and your fellow townsfolk understand where we can reasonably hope to cut costs and reduce taxes.
  3. Move to the ‘burbs’ and let Parry Sound Council know why you moved.

But most people will prefer to pay their taxes and bitch and moan about them. But I wonder: why make yourself miserable if you aren’t going to do anything about it. Lead, follow or move out of town!

On the Water! Walk to Town! No Taxes! (Parry Sound in Black & White)