The recent Official Plan presentations to the public and town council provided a wealth of information on the opportunities and challenges facing Parry Sound as it looks toward the next 5, 10 and 20 years. The Official Plan is currently in the review and draft stages with the intention that a final draft of the plan will be provided to the public in the May/June time frame. A draft of the talking points related to the plan is available now, and the opportunity exists to provide your input. The official plan documents are available on the Town of Parry Sound website homepage. Here is a link to get there directly.

While there is much to say about the official plan and what it implies I will focus on some of the new figures that are included in the supporting documents and what they might imply for Parry Sound.

Parry Sound faces a number of challenges. With a relatively small population, and reasonably high service demands, per capita administration and public service costs can be high. This higher cost is not related to extravagance, it’s a function of increasing public expectations. The town is somewhat penalized by providing a number of services and facilities for the surrounding municipalities for which it receives limited compensation.

Let’s look at some encouraging numbers that will impact the thinking of town council and staff as they prepare and review the Official plan. We have achieved population growth. After a decade of seeing the population figures for Parry Sound drop, the 2011 census figures show a strong increase from 2006 to reach a total of 6,191 (+6.4%). We currently have 3,037 private dwellings, of which 94% are occupied on a permanent basis. This translate into an average of 2.2 persons per permanent residence. It’s worth noting that population figures do not include seasonal residents, these individuals are considered residents where they declare their ‘usual residence’. This gets to be important as we look at the surrounding municipalities which have a very high proportion of cottagers.

While Parry Sound grew, Seguin’s permanent population dropped from 4,276 in 2006 to 3,988 in 2011. While there are 4,348 residences in Seguin, only 37%, or 1,627 are permanent residences. This translates to 2.4 residents per permanent household. The drop in population may be an ominous sign for the permanent residents in Seguin. As the tax base becomes more and more concentrated in seasonal residents there is likely to be pressure on the elected officials to reduce services that are not needed by seasonal residents in an attempt to reduce costs and taxes. And with a majority of the residences, and the ability to pretty much declare as many ‘residents’ for voting purposes as they wish, it seems the seasonal population in Seguin will be able to dictate to council what they will and won’t accept in terms of local improvements that would primarily serve the permanent resident population.

McDougall showed no change in this period with a population of 2,705 permanent residents in 2011. About 65% of the residences in McDougall are occupied on a permanent basis, with an average 2.5 persons per residence.

McKellar showed an increase in permanent residents, rising from 1,080 in 2006 to 1,144 in 2011 (+5.8%). Permanent residences accounted for 36% of all residences, a figure similar to that for Seguin, suggesting again that there will be pressure to limit services so as to limit tax increases. The average persons per permanent residence was 2.2.

Carling showed the largest percentage population increase, 11.1%, rising to 1,284 permanent residents in 2011. The proportion of permanent residents was 33%, again suggesting a much larger proportion of seasonal (cottage) residents relative to the permanent population. The average persons per permanent residence was 2.5.

The Archipelago had the lowest permanent population of the surrounding municipalities, 566 in 2011, a slight drop from 2006. About 9% of the residences were considered to be permanent or primary residences. The average persons per permanent residence was 2.2.

So if you are a Parry Sound resident the population figures are good news from a services and taxes basis. More people and more residences mean a larger tax base to support current services. But this will come with more activity in town as we add people on a permanent basis. I see this as a benefit. More people mean more energy, and more energy leads to greater opportunity. If you want a quieter, less expensive place to live you may want to consider one of the nearby municipalities. But then I’m sure we’ll still be seeing you on a regular basis because Parry Sound has what you want and need, even if it’s a half-hour drive away.