It was a rather short meeting last night, with only three people in the audience. It may have been because of the prospect of my deputation, or it might have been the Blue Jays playoff game. Here is the text of my deputation last night.
“This deputation relates to Item 9.3.3 on the agenda – Review of New Multi-Residential Tax Class
I have come to think of Parry Sound as an island municipality in that it sits on a very limited piece of land with essentially no opportunity for expansion. This means as a community we need to carefully consider how we develop what limited land is available in the best manner possible so as to provide residents and businesses with the best value for their municipal tax dollars.
What is obvious is that despite the limited land resources of our island municipality we are required to provide the majority of the community and social services for the West Parry Sound District. In most cases these services are located in prime locations and are not subject to property taxation, even though they make use of Town services, and in some cases require services above and beyond what is supplied to most residential and business property owners. A simple drive from the Town Office past the Mall provides evidence of the many properties that are exempt from property taxation on their assessed value, including churches, schools, social services organizations and colleges. In some cases, when they are taxed, it is far below what other businesses and residents pay. Add to this the home for the aged, the hospital, the brown field properties, the railways, the District Museum, and even the assessment reductions provided to properties directly adjacent to the rail line, and the loss in tax revenue is considerable. Yet these organizations provide critical services and support to neighbouring municipalities who carry none of the financial burden in terms of lost tax revenue, despite having a much, much larger land area and a far higher assessment base. Parry Sound currently has by far the highest tax rate in the district, in part as a result of the revenues lost because of these taxation exempt institutions. I estimate that these tax exempt properties account for between 10 and 15% of the Town’s total assessment, and add a similar amount to every residents and businesses property tax bill.
Hosting these organizations is part of our contribution to making West Parry Sound a better place to live for everyone, and I do not begrudge the additional tax costs. I do feel going forward that Council needs to carefully consider the cost to businesses and residents of attracting and supporting additional tax exempt organizations. These organizations often occupy prime real estate that could be used for commercial and residential purposes, both of which provide the taxes to support the required infrastructure build, upgrades, and maintenance. It has been argued that these organizations bring additional population who live in Parry Sound and directly support the Town through property taxes. It is my experience that many of these people, notably the higher earning folks, actually live in the surrounding communities, enriching the tax base of these communities because they want to be by a lake or the bay, have a large piece of land, all while paying lower taxes. And what services they need can be sourced in Parry Sound. A number of our neighbours are even suggesting Parry Sound should build a swimming pool so that they won’t be forced to drive to Bracebridge. Like Donald Trump has said, it’s legal and it’s smart business to keep your taxes low. But of course someone has to pay for services and the required support.
The Town is interested in extending Parry Sound Drive up to Old Highway 69, but the business model is hard to rationalize because the Town only is able to tax properties on one side of the road. Once again Parry Sound pays and our neighbours derive considerable benefit.
As we enter the 2017 budget discussions and Council considers Item 9.3.3, which I consider to be a very reasonable request and a relative ‘drop in the bucket’ in terms of lost revenue, I suggest the Town carefully consider how it can strike a reasonable balance between being the go-to resource for District social services while not burdening Parry Sound businesses and residents with the increasingly high cost of the required support.
One last thought. The location of the K-12 school is yet to be decided. I would suggest that the Town do what it can to support having the school built in one of our neighbouring municipalities, McDougall or Seguin. Foregoing the school would allow for the existing high school property to be adapted for commercial and/or residential purposes that would expand the assessment base and provide for additional tax revenues with little or no need for additional infrastructure. Any new school would not only occupy a valuable part of our little island municipality, but it would also come with additional costs. Beyond the expected costs to Parry Sound to fund supporting infrastructure upgrades for any new K-12 school, there would likely be additional, unexpected costs down the line, that will be the burden of the Parry Sound taxpayer. Witness the new Parry Sound Public School, in addition to the debentured costs for required infrastructure there is now talk of additional road changes and extensions to ease a parking problem, at the expense of Parry Sound residents and businesses, and to the great annoyance of local residents.
As a municipality we need to be smart. It is not our responsibility to provide resources and services for our rich neighbouring municipalities at the cost of our local residents and businesses. Supporting the unfortunate and needy is something we should do. The rich folks know how to take care of themselves.”
Island? This is an island.