I noticed that none of you were in attendance yesterday evening at the Town of Parry Sound’s first open budget meeting. If you don’t like the menu perhaps you should  spend some time in the kitchen talking to the cook.

The 2017 budget is likely to lead to a 4.5% or so increase in taxes. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is a normal increase in the cost of existing services, as well as some service enhancements. This accounts for about a 2.5% increase. The second reason is the recommendation of Town Staff to establish a reserve fund for major infrastructure projects. This amounts to a recommended 1.8% increase. A 3.6% figure would be better but seems a bit too steep. The whole issue of infrastructure investment is a major issue in Canada and the USA. You may have heard about President-Elect Trump’s promise to invest $1 Trillion in US infrastructure. The question is where he hopes to find the money. The same infrastructure challenge faces Canada, Ontario and Parry Sound. We are better off than most communities who are facing a 5-8% annual increase in tax rates to make up for their past decisions to forego infrastructure investments in exchange for lower taxes.

It also doesn’t help that the overall assessment of properties has dropped by 3%. This has implications for the tax rate, but not the total levy. It shouldn’t directly ding people in terms of their overall tax bill, except those of you condo dwellers who saw a slight assessment increase. But, that increase in taxes will be phased in over the next four years, so it may not even be noticeable in 2017.

Yes, the general provincial and federal grants have dropped over the years, but that’s not a significant overall budget issue as we have done well in securing infrastructure funding support. They take with one hand but give with the other. Ultimately the higher level governments feel we should be truly self-funded, just as you hope with your kids (eventually), which is why we need to look closely at what facilities and services we are able and willing to pay for, without government handouts. I see that our neighbors want $25 million or so from the province and the feds for an internet infrastructure. They may get it, but if it’s that important why aren’t they funding it themselves? Perhaps they feel it’s critical infrastructure that should be ‘given’ to them. Well I feel the same way about the proposed Waubeek Road reconstruction, and the extension of Great North Road. We need to be prepared to carry the costs of those infrastructure projects we judge as critical and hope that the province agrees and kicks in a portion of the funds, not hope they pay for it all.

There is a clear choice for those of you who feel that taxes are too high in Parry Sound, move to the neighboring communities where property taxes are 25% to 60% lower on assessed value. There are fewer local services and much less infrastructure, but the taxes are lower and you can always drive to Parry Sound for your shopping and services. Don’t worry about the bears, we have them here already. After spending time going over the budget and listening to the presentation and discussion last night I am happy to defend the implications of the draft budget. Sometimes you have to spend more to just stay in the same place.

You may see me get a bit more animated if there is any serious discussion of an aquatic centre in Parry Sound lacking a clear plan of how that expense will not end up on my tax bill. Without considerable regional participation it would add another 5-8% to our tax bills for just operating expenses, plus another 5% for the debenture to cover the cost of construction assuming a reasonable time of facility life term for the debenture, not a thirty year daydream. Town Staff did decide to defer investment in a ‘splash pad’ beyond 2017. Splash pad? This was the suggestion of a councillor no longer on Council, and to date I have never seen a plan for where it might be installed, a firm budget for construction and maintenance, and a plan for how it would be operated (season, time, …). We have enough trouble maintaining a couple of small fountains and we want to operate a splash pad?

Back to the budget, you need to go over it to understand the implications. There are four areas of new discretionary spending that Council has been asked to decide on:

  1. Recreation programmer.
  2. Economic development officer.
  3. Tourism intern.
  4. Enhanced transfer station service (mostly increased hazardous waste service).

All four have merit. If you have a question or comment about the budget be sure to pass it on to Council. The next meeting, when I expect many of the decisions will be made, is scheduled for December 13th, 6:00 PM in the council chambers. Let Council know what you are thinking and come on down on the 13th to see how budgets are discussed and agreed.

Note: The North Star attended the budget session so I expect they will share some of their observations and thoughts in Friday’s Beacon Star and next week’s North Star. With James King having left Moose-FM is seems they are no longer covering Parry Sound Council events. On the upside there is a proposal before Council to budget $2,500 for audio visual equipment to permit council meetings to be made available over YouTube, including these smaller budget type meetings. That would be an important step forward in ensuring transparency in local government.

Yes, there was much more, but nothing too critical in my opinion. If you want to know what goes on you should attend; admission is free.

And no, there was no mention of the casino project. Better perhaps that werestrict our ‘pipe dreams’ to water services for the near future at least.

Budgets are All About Getting Things to Line Up