There was an open special meeting of Council on Tuesday to begin the 2014 budget process. This meeting seemingly was intended to provide Council and Staff the opportunity to present and discuss budget items that would be above and beyond those of 2013. The budget procedure in Parry Sound seems to be that the basic operating budget is carried over from the previous year and is adjusted for inflation. This operating budget never comes up for public discussion, it is what it is. Presumably there are internal discussions at the Staff level where opportunities for ‘optimization’ are discussed and incorporated into the new budget. There does not seem to be an open discussion with Council about whether some some expenses in the operating budget might be trimmed or reorganized.

The proposed operating budget for 2014 will just appear in the overall budget. This makes it hard for the public and even Council to provide much if any input into the operating portion of the budget. It’s not an easy document to understand. This operating budget probably accounts for about 80% of the overall Town budget. The net/net is that Council and public only has direct input into the 20% of the budget that is new for the upcoming year. (A corollary of the Pareto Principle, where 80% of Council’s attention will focus on 20% of the budget?)

The 20% portion includes things like new trucks, major repairs, and facility upgrades. In theory I guess this is where new additions to town staff would be requested. From what I can tell there are no requests for additional staff in 2014 beyond an intern. As noted earlier the largest part of the budget really doesn’t come up for review with Council. There certainly isn’t any attempt to do ‘zero base budgeting’. In my opinion that’s neither good nor bad, it is what it is. The only issue of course is that this approach can lead to budget ‘creep’ where costs are slowly and quietly added without offsetting cost reductions. It seems creep is held in check by limiting the increase in the operating portion of the budget to no more than inflation.

The 20% Budget Requests

So what was discussed and presented in the budget meeting this week that makes up the 20% of the budget? The full budget information is available online to anyone who wants to see it at the town’s website. You can try and figure out where it is tucked away on the Town’s website (no prize but give yourself a pat on the back) or you can try this link (it’s part of the September 10, 2013 meeting agenda).

Listed below are the larger dollar items proposed for 2014. There are more items on the list, but they are either somewhat more modest or I figure they don’t have much chance of being approved ($30,000 for floating fountains in the Seguin River?), even if they may have merit.

New Town Website – $30,000
Forest Street Rebuild – $4,500,000
Aerial Fire Truck – $1,100,000
Repair Fire Hall Retaining Wall – $150,000
Cold Mix and Storage Shed – $200,000
7-ton Plow Truck – $200,000
Water Meter Upgrade – $100,000
BOCC Roof Repairs – $150,000
Town Dock Repairs – $180,000

I don’t have a total figure for all of the requests, but the items above are the biggies. In some cases there are government funds available to offset a portion of the costs, and in some other cases there are reserves that can be drawn upon. The remainder will need to come out of the Town’s 2014 budget or be rolled into a debenture.

Council and Staff had a productive discussion about the budget items. Very few items were removed from the list, most of the discussion focused on the what and why of the individual items. The cutting will only come much later this year, or early next year.

Council agreed to consider a 1.5% increase in the tax rate for 2014. This would be in addition to an estimated 2.5% increase in the tax base valuation (MPAC increased valuation and new construction), for a net 4%, or so, revenue increase for the Town.

Property for Sale (View of Trestle and Harbour Included)