Well maybe it’s the right tree but what’s up the tree is not what I thought it was.

Going through the budget has been a bit of a revelation in a number of ways. It has also provided some clarity regarding Parking and the accompanying budget. It appears Parking has been used as a slush fund, which now represents a problem if Free Parking is implemented. Unless there are plans to drain the Parking Reserve. Let me explain.

I am not suggesting that parking revenues have been used for anything nefarious, no Caribbean vacations, or anything like that. It has been used to ‘tidy up’ legitimate Town expenses. Running a little short in one budget area and there is some logic in charging it to the Parking Reserves? Let’s do it. The first time I saw it was at a budget meeting three years ago where the expense for hanging flower baskets in the downtown was going to be cut or directly impact the levy. The solution was, as proposed and accepted by Council, charge it to Parking. These baskets were, after all, being hung in and around the paid parking areas. This was a $10,000 plus expense.

That explains why I haven’t been called out about my criticism of the costs for a parking attendant in the 2016, about $65,000. That’s perhaps because the majority of the cost isn’t for parking enforcement, it’s probably for By-Law enforcement. In the past a By-Law person was responsible in part for parking enforcement plus a large number of other by-law duties: dogs, cats, neighbour complaints, fire and fireworks violations, etc. All of this is necessary in my opinion, and I don’t suggest the position is redundant. But because some of By-Law’s work related to parking enforcement a large portion of expenses related to the position could be charged to the Parking Budget, which had a steady stream of revenue.

With the likely adoption of Free Parking, a By-Law salary probably shouldn’t be charged to Parking, at least not in full. But bringing it into the regular budget would bump up costs by about $50,000. That would translate into a 0.5% levy increase. The thinking perhaps was to continue to assign it to Parking and continue to drain the Parking Reserves, rather than deal with a levy increase or a cut in some other part of the budget.

I occasionally receive a suggestion from Council or Staff when I’m off target. But in the case of Parking, not a peep. They have let me continue to stand on my soapbox and criticize the parking attendant costs. The alternative it seems would be to let me and others know that the expense(s) really isn’t related to Parking. That then would require Staff and Council in good conscience to assign $50,000 or so to another part of the 2016 Budget, not the levy neutral Parking Reserve, implying either expense cuts or a levy increase.

The actual forecast cost of parking attendant services for 2016 seems to be $17,000, for a part-time position. A much more reasonable total than the $65,000 listed in the Draft 2016 Budget. I won’t bark at that, at least not too loudly.

I recall a joke my boss told me when I started my first ‘real’ job; it was as a pharmaceutical sales representative. It goes; a traveling salesman working in Southern Ontario is caught in an unexpected early November snowstorm. To properly call on his clients he needed to buy a pair of ‘galoshes’. He was too far from home to retrieve his. When later preparing his expense report he wrote, “Galoshes – $14.00”. Total expenses for the trip were $485.14, including hotels, meals, parking, gas, etc.. His boss returned the expense report asking it be reduced appropriately as the company didn’t pay for galoshes, it was a personal expense. The sales rep dutifully rewrote the report eliminating the line item for the galoshes. When the boss received the expense report it still totaled $485.14. Attached to the report was a Post-It note that read “Find the Galoshes”.

In that same theme I wonder where the hanging baskets among other items are now buried. If you have ever managed sales people and expense reports you know it’s like playing Whack-a-Mole. If the sales rep feels it’s a legitimate expense it will end up in the expense report somewhere.

Bottom line: once again I may be wrong. The $48,000 may actually be for a support person in the larger Fire and Emergency Services department. But at least I’ve made sense of a strange situation. There appears to be no plan to hire a full time parking attendant, even if it is in the budget.

A final thought. Paid parking in Parry Sound is not cost neutral. It has in the past provided much needed funds to cover much more than the attendants, meters and lot maintenance. It will be missed, but not for long. If you look closely you will find it in your tax bill, or in reduced services. Or a depleted Parking Reserve fund.

TOPS Parking Budget 2016-01-12Click for a larger view.