Last night’s special open meeting of council resulted in an approved 2013 budget for Parry Sound. The bottom line is that the tax levy is up 1.5% over 2012, due in part to taking a little more than $90,000 from the rate stabilization reserved. This a reasonable increase given the inherent cost of living increases, aka inflation rate, for 2012, and the town’s increased costs. The actual increase for homeowners and businesses will depend on how much MPAC increases their individual property assessments. A 1.5% tax rate increase, combined with a 3% property assessment increase, means you will be paying about 4.5% more in 2013 than 2012. And for a property with a $3,000 per year tax bill in 2012, the increase is about $135, with the hypothetical 4.5% combined levy and assessment increases. Not that big, but still significant. But I’m not not sure what the actual MPAC assessment increases are, so your tax bill increase will vary, but it will be up at least 1.5%.

There were few surprises in the 2013 budget as far as I was concerned. The more interesting points were:

1. The repair of the Smelter Wharf (Salt Dock) boat launch is likely to be on the order of a quarter million dollars. That’s quite a bit of money for the town to spend to provide a free recreational service that competes with private businesses who pay local taxes, especially when we have two other boat launches available. The bad news is that the Smelter Wharf boat launch is unlikely to be open until later in the summer at the earliest, pending repairs. The good news is that repairs to the Waubuno launch are underway and it should be operational before the start of the boating season. The Champaigne Street boat launch is also available.

2. Council continues to wrangle about the purchase of new or used pickup trucks. The Director of Public Works was given the direction to look for and purchase a used truck for no more than $25,000. A new vehicle was estimated to cost on the order of $42,000. I don’t agree with the direction of council, for reasons of cost and distraction.

Doing some back of the envelope calculations I estimate the Director of Public Works time costs the town about $70/hour. If the search for a used vehicle takes 30 hours (research, review, negotiation, inspection, pick up), that adds $2,000 to the negotiated price. And if we need to add a paint job, town trucks are identified by their red colour, the cost of buying used over new is about $3-4,000. So we may be saving about $10-12,000 if we can find a suitable truck for the specified $25,000. To imagine a $17,000 price savings (40% less) the truck will be at least a couple of years old, or have excessive mileage, and a corresponding much reduced warranty period. As an aside, any truck in good condition that is reduced by this large an amount will be quickly snapped up by someone else. The town will probably end up looking at, and kicking the tires of, vehicles that have been rejected by other parties much more familiar with the vehicle and the seller.

But the real cost in my mind is the distraction. While the Director of Public Works may cost the town about $70/hour, he is capable of earning more than 5-times that amount for the town by identifying ways to save money on much bigger budget items like infrastructure repairs and upgrades. So, let’s ask the Public Works department to sharpen their specifications for new vehicles to only that which is really necessary, and then tender for new vehicles. It saves time and potentially supports local businesses, and at the same time represents a relative bargain for the town when all of the costs are added up. If we want to save money by buying used, let’s look long and hard at a replacement for the town’s fire truck which is budgeted at close to $1.5 million. A savings of 20-30% on this cost could pay for as many as ten pickup trucks, all brand new.

3. Staff was directed to prepare a proposal on upgrade options for the skateboard park. There is about $47,000 sitting in reserves for the park that council felt should be put to use for the community.

4. The new school will cost the town about $500,000 in infrastructure upgrades. In theory these upgrades could be ignored, but the cost savings of doing them now, when the roads will already be torn up at the school board’s expense, outweighs the pain of the near term costs.

There was more, but you really needed to be there to catch it all. Sometimes you can’t just sit at home and hope the news will find you. There was no Cogeco or North Star coverage of the meeting. The Moose-FM was represented by their intern. Perhaps there is a role for non-traditional media in Parry Sound, even without media privileges (yes, that was a dig, more digging below).

Digging In and Making Progress