Here are some thoughts arising from the Budget Meeting last night. There were only two of us in the audience, no Cogeco and no media. I suppose that if you don’t show up for the discussion you are obliged to keep your mouth shut after the decisions are made. Or not.

Here are my takeaways from last night’s meeting:

  1. The budget is based on a 1.9% overall increase in the tax rate. This turns out to be a $43 tax increase for a property assessed at $200,000 (the Parry Sound median value). If your assessment is $300,000 the increase would be $65, and for a $400,000 property the increase would total $86. Any MPAC assessment increase would be in addition to the tax rate increase. So some properties might see an effective 2.5% to 3.5% (or more) increase, while others may see only the 1.9% increase, and a very few may actually see a decrease.
  2. A number of ‘facts and figures’ were presented and are incorporated in the 2016 Draft Budget. These included comparative demographic figures for Parry Sound compared to Ontario as a whole, as well as Northern Ontario. In general it seems we have an older population (no surprise there), and overall we are in a reasonably good financial position as a municipality.
  3. One interesting set of figures presented at the meeting concerned the 2015 Weighted Assessment per Capita for West Parry Sound. It provides for a comparison of the local municipalities in terms of how much assessed property they have per ‘resident’ (I assume this to refer to permanent, rather than seasonal, population). Parry Sound has the lowest assessment per person, about $100,000 per resident. The Archipelago has an assessment of about $3.4 million (yes, million) per resident. Seguin and Carling are tied for second with an assessment per capita of about $750,000. That explains in large part why taxes are higher in Parry Sound than the surrounding communities. We have a much lower assessment base to tax. It also explains why other municipalities, in particular The Archipelago, can spend so much on their annual Christmas party for Staff and Council, while in Parry Sound attendees are required to pay their own way. If you’ve got it, flaunt it; assessment that is.
  4. The discussion last night focused on what new expenses were being recommended and what expenses were considered, and ultimately rejected. What wasn’t discussed was any review that might have been undertaken regarding existing services/expenses and whether they still make sense and are required. This is a whole review that is conducted internally among Staff and is never presented in detail to Council or the Public. I have some concern about this.

I will be spending time working my way through the draft budget, there are almost 150 pages to review. The good news is that the next meeting to discuss the budget will only be in January, so there is lots of time to ‘dig in’. I encourage you to take the time to review the document and contact the Director of Finance (Trevor Pinn), the Mayor, or one of Councillors if you want more information or would like to provide your input. Here is a link to the Town’s budget page where you can download the Draft Budget and supporting documents. The Draft Budget (link) is also hosted here if you have trouble finding it at the Town’s website.

An additional note: although Town Council is working on the basis of a 1.9% tax rate increase, I estimate that the Town will be spending about 3% more in 2016 than in 2015. The difference is the MPAC assessment increases on newly constructed, or renovated, property now subject to property taxes. For the home and business owner it’s double jeopardy, tax rate increases and assessment increases. And then of course there are the scheduled increases in water service costs. I hope that Council doesn’t assume the simple $43 increase associated with a 1.9% rate increase for an average property is the sum of all increased expenses the property owner will face in 2016 with respect to municipal services.

No complaints from me; overall I believe we receive good value for our tax dollars. Nonetheless, I will spend the next few weeks going over the 2016 Draft Budget to better understand where we spend our tax dollars, and be comfortable that these are good investments.

Looking at Nuts and Bolts in a Different Light (Parry Sound in Colour)