This meeting ran from about 6:00 to 9:00 PM and focused on a number of one-time capital and non-recurring expenses. An introduction was offered that helped put the budget items into context with respect to the overall 2013 budget. This summary captures only the more significant, or controversial, items.
- Property Sales: There is the expectation that the town will receive about $500,000 from the disposal of town owned property. Council agreed that this revenue should be put in to reserves or set against capital expenses, rather than be used to offset operating expenses.
- Stockey Centre: The Stockey Centre needs a new roof, to the tune of about $190,000. This should be covered by established reserves. It seemed to be agreed in principle that the repairs would be made in 2013.
- Road Resurfacing: This was a major topic of discussion. The current proposed budget of $100,000 seemed to be far from adequate to cover the major work that needs to be done. It was noted that some streets are not candidates for resurfacing this year as their underlying infrastructure is in need of repair. Later discussion focused on finding other areas from which money could be taken to increase the road resurfacing budget.
- Public Works Capital: This took up much of the meeting time. It seems that the town needs to replace a number of its vehicles, to the tune of about $530,000. This includes two 7 Ton Plow trucks at $200,000 each, and three pickup trucks. Now, I don’t think the Director of Public works is starting his own full sized ‘Hot Wheels’ collection, so I guess we need these vehicles. There was a good case made for the two 7 Ton Plows, which was subject to extensive discussion. It seems the town is behind the eight-ball in terms of vehicle replacement and needs to play catch-up. Council it seems doesn’t think this is the year to do it. One of the 7 Ton plows actually was ordered last year but hasn’t yet arrived, and comes out of this year’s budget.
Council has suggested that the other 7 Ton plow be ordered this year for delivery on January 2, 2014, so that it hits the 2014 budget (seems like a bit of ‘verboten’ pre-budget authorization). Council did suggest that $100,000 of the savings from delaying the plow be invested in road resurfacing, bringing it up to $200,000. With the respect to the pickup trucks the council recommendation was ‘buy used’. Seems to be a reasonable idea, but it’s really ‘nickel and diming’ the budget. The savings will probably be on the order of $30,000 for all three pickup trucks. And what about colour? The town fleet is red, do we only buy red used pickups, or do we pay to paint them red? Or do we say to heck with it, any colour as long as it’s cheap. In the end staff was tasked with investigating the used truck option. There are no easy answers here, but there are better places to save some money. I’ll share a couple of my thoughts as we move forward.
- The Rotary Algonquin Regiment Fitness Trail over the Seguin River needs urgent repairs to the tune of $60,000. One councillor felt that the repair was unnecessary and the bridge could be closed. He was reminded that it was an important link in the town’s trail system and it was used for snow machine traffic in the winter. Closing the bridge would mean having more pedestrian traffic on Bowes Street, not necessarily a good idea. How would the snow machines connect with the rest of the trail? Up Bowes Street? And what about the petunias on the town bridge? Would they be subject to even more violence? In the end it seems the $60,000 was left in the budget.
- Then there is the issue of $150,000 in repairs to the Salt Dock boat launch. Yes, that’s $150,000. It was interesting to see that council never asked if there was a more economical approach to providing this service to the public, or alternative repair approach. Rather, council spent considerable time discussing the option to charge user fees. But of course they felt we would first need to look into monitoring how many people use the launch (I’m not really sure why). So staff was tasked with looking into traffic monitors. Council felt that the Salt Dock ramp was an absolutely critical town resource, and it was suggested that it was the busiest public boat launch between MacTier and Britt, and a necessary asset to keep tourists coming to Parry Sound. I’m not sure that it is that critical, but as a boater I’m happy to go along with the repair. But $150,000? I am familiar with the launch and I really don’t see how it can cost that much. Yes you need to do underwater work. But $150,000? Sitting at my desk I estimate the ramp is perhaps 20 feet wide and 40 feet long (under the water), which works out to almost $200.00 a square foot. There have to be other options. And my sense is that the idea of user fees is a non-starter, it will cost as much to have it monitored as it will bring in revenue. And what about at night, do we lock the ramp (an additional cost)? What hours will it be open? Now that’s sure to lead to some annoyed boaters who might take alternative approaches to their predicament. Bottom line – ask staff to look into alternative ramp options and forget the traffic counter.
- And the Waubano Street launch needs to be dredged. That and burying the storm sewer on the beach will cost an additional $50,000. And council wants to grant pre-budget approval for this project and the Salt Dock ramp because the suppliers are busy and we need to get in line. My take on this is sit down, take a couple of deep breaths, and ask what we need and how much it’s worth. Do we really need another boat ramp at Waubano if we are slated to have a ‘double wide’ ramp at the Sat Dock that is less than a kilometer away? Remember we also have a boat ramp over at Champagne Street.
- Gazebos for the park areas were dropped in the absence of corporate sponsorship. No complaint from me on this decision.
- The ice resurfacer at the Bobby Orr Community Centre needs replacing or a major overhaul. A major overhaul was suggested by council.
- Computer upgrades to the tune of $35,000 were proposed. This was required for council and staff to go ‘paperless’, and I guess buy everyone an iPad. This will depend on a recommendation from the IT group and a final decision by council. I have a bit of personal experience in this area and I’ll be interested in seeing what council decides.
- There was too much discussion about shredding. Staff is asking for a $5,000 shredder, but the discussion went on about how we could use a portable shredding service. (The town already does.)
- The new fire truck, a $1,000,000-plus Telesquirt was deferred until the new Fire Chief comes on board.
- Repairs to the Town Dock and Big Sound Marina budgeted at $65,000 received very little discussion and made the cut.
- There was extensive discussion about the installation of remote reading water meters. Staff has suggested a $250,000 upgrade to about 500 meters that will save the town about $2,000annually in out-sourced meter reading services. Council wisely turned down this budget item.
- Repainting and cleaning of the Bowes Street water tower was approved in principle at a cost of $120,000.
- There was extensive debate about installing an automatic water dispenser on Parry Sound Drive for use by commercial customers. The unit costs about $45,000. The water sales bring in about $65,000 annually. The concern was that the Industrial Park north of town is also looking at installing a similar dispenser that could take business from Parry Sound and possibly reduce or eliminate the potential profit from the dispenser installation. Some good points were made but the bottom line is that if we don’t install the unit we will lose the business and it will cost the town $65,000 in revenue for something that doesn’t have an incremental cos to the town (the water facility is largely a fixed cost). In the end council approved the investment, but only after the Mayor cast the deciding vote (4-3).
There was much more, it was a three-hour meeting but these are the highlights of the discussion in my opinion. Round 2 is Monday, March 11th starting at 6:30 PM. Be on time if you want a ringside seat. I’ll be there.
Actually you can arrive late and still get a ringside seat. But be sure to let town staff know you will be there if you want a copy of the budget to follow along with the discussion.
(I may come back and edit this post. I wanted to get it up sooner rather than later and it might have some typos that I’ll catch on further review.)