Like a good movie, last night’s meeting of Council saved the surprise until the very end. The surprise was a $180,000 levy shortfall for 2016 as a result of provincial legislation eliminating certain semi-public properties from property assessment. The change impacted the assessment for the Lakeland Long Term Care facility in Parry Sound. As a result, Council has decided to return to the budget process, with a meeting scheduled for March 2nd at 6:00 PM. Everything is back on the table for discussion. Those of you who have been following the budget process will remember that Council agonized about a $100,000 addition to the budget that led to a 3.16% levy increase. The $180,000 will have a proportionately larger impact. I applaud Council for deciding to take a step back and look at the big budget picture rather than fudge things by making adjustments to the reserves.

This is the second time in recent history that Council has been hit with a loss in tax revenue as a result of assessment adjustments. The Town has now lost more than $500,000 in annual revenue with the latest assessment change and the earlier reduction of the assessment for  the Big Box stores (Home Depot, Wal-Mart and Canadian Tire).

There are two themes here. The first is the Provincial and Federal decision to download more and more expenses to the municipalities. The decision regarding facilities like Lakeland Long Term Care will reduce the Province’s cost to support these facilities by shifting the burden to local communities. This then allows the Province to limit provincial tax increases, and look financially responsible, at the expense of the municipalities. The second theme concerns the load Parry Sound carries for the area municipalities. With very limited space, many of Parry Sound’s prime business and residential locations are dedicated to federal, provincial, and community services that pay reduced or no municipal taxes. Yet these facilities still need their streets cleaned and repaired, street lights operated, OPP services, and so on. The argument is that these facilities bring jobs that benefit the community by increasing local property revenue. But how many of the people who have these jobs actually live in the surrounding communities? It is in fact many more than our neighbouring municipalities would like to admit.

Perhaps our very ‘rich’ neighbours can pitch in and build an area recreation facility, aka ‘a pool’. It looks as though Parry Sound won’t be in any position to consider participating for some time to come. With little space to grow, Parry Sound will need to live with it’s current reality. Raising taxes really doesn’t make sense, the Parry Sound levy is already three times that of Seguin. That means a $200,000 home in Parry Sound might pay about $2,000 in annual property taxes while the same $200,000 property in Seguin would pay about $700. But with Parry Sound ‘just around the corner’ residents of Seguin, Carling and McDougall pretty much enjoy all the benefits of living in Parry Sound, but for much less. At least the OPP costing discrepancy is bit-by-bit being adjusted.

There was a larger crowd at last night’s meeting. The audience was there to confirm that Council was moving forward with the next step to eliminate fluoride from the Town’s water supply. “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead”? Well perhaps dead but not yet buried to the satisfaction of some. That burial is scheduled for next month. Will we see a raising of the dead in a couple of years? Hmm, Zombies are pretty popular nowadays. Revenge of the Fluoride Zombies? Stay tuned.

The Views are Free, Day and Night (Parry Sound in B&W)