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A bit of this and a bit of that, throw it into a grinder, add a bit of spice to mask things, and squeeze into casings. Yum. Tastes great, even if it seems a bit pricey. But, don’t ask about exactly what it’s made from – you really don’t want to know.

Parry Sound Council this past week reached agreement on the details of the 2017 Budget. As discussed in an earlier post, Council managed to find ways to hit the low end of the original budget target. That still means taxes will be up about 5% or more for most residential properties, but it quite easily could have been higher.

What’s In?
The budget included a number of new initiatives as well as some older issues that couldn’t be put off any longer. What’s in includes:

  1. Funding for an Economic Development Officer for a three year period. Council seemed very upbeat with respect to a candidate they had identified to take the position. ($75,000/year annualized, contract salary and marketing materials)
  2. Funding for a Recreation Programmer, permanent full-time. ($84,000, annualized staffing and program delivery costs)
  3. Funding for a tourism intern. ($12,000, staffing and materials)
  4. Repairs to the Stockey Centre roof. ($700,000 to be debentured)
  5. MADVAC, a vacuum cleaner on wheels for the downtown. ($60,000)
  6. Repairs to the retaining wall at Louisa/Bowes Street. ($160,000, from reserves)
  7. Human Resources position increased to five days per week.
  8. Parry Sound Road extension feasibility study. ($100,000, from reserves)
  9. Great North Road design. ($900,000, from reserves)

What Not?
Some expenses were cut and others were reduced. Here are the more notable cuts and/or reductions:

  1. Cut – Repairs to the Old Fire Hall. (more on this below)
  2. Cut – Staff position and resources to expand hazardous waste collection and disposal. ($68,000)
  3. Cut – Isabella Street sidewalks and water services upgrade.
  4. Reduced – Waubeek Street revitalization limited to Avenue Road to Prospect Street, including Prospect Street and the services to the Coast Guard Station.
  5. Reduced – Downtown facade improvement program reduced to $25,000 for 2017.

Old Fire Hall
An Old Fire Hall revitalization was originally budgeted as a $250,000 expense for 2017 (debentured). In the closed session of council on Tuesday the decision was apparently made to sell the Fire Hall. It makes sense, the building is in serious need of repair and as such really doesn’t provide any value as is for the Town. There was an earlier suggestion that the Town would renovate the hall and then lease it out, probably for a restaurant type use. Instead of paying for repair and renovation and then hoping for a lessee, the decision is to sell the hall. I’m not privy to the business case but it makes sense.

What is a little worrying is the Town’s reliance on selling land and properties to cover the cost of normal operations. In the past five years the Town has sold Parry Sound Power, lots on William Street, the Old Pump House and other smaller properties. This year we will be selling the Old Fire Hall. What’s next? What has become of these funds? The millions we received for Parry Sound Power were put into a reserve and to the best of my understanding has been siphoned off bit by bit. One million of that reserve is earmarked for design and engineering plans for Parry Sound Road and Great North Road. I’m told that it is effectively a loan and will be replaced when the project starts and is debentured.

Using the Parry Sound Power funds to front money for a large infrastructure project makes sense. I probably makes more sense than taking a loan to fund the project. It’s a bit like taking a loan from your RSP to pay for the downpayment on a new house. As long as you pay it back in a reasonable timeframe there is no foul.

My bigger concern is the Town’s reliance on selling assets the past five years to meet annual expenditures. It has probably shaved about 3% or 4% off our tax rates which is a good thing. But is it a bit like selling the family silver to cover the mortgage payment. Yes, you don’t regularly use Grandma’s silver, but once it’s gone, it’s gone. And it will be much, much more expensive to try and get it back. It’s like pawning a ring or a guitar, you can never buy something similar for anything close to what you can sell it for. So what are we going to sell next to make ends meet? The North Shore Road allowance?

Overall I’m okay with the budget. The 5% increase in taxes I’ll see in 2017 is something I can afford. I’m not so sure that everyone is in a similarly comfortable position. Don’t bitch about taxes unless you actually invest some time and effort understanding the choices facing Staff and Council, and then share your thoughts. Your opinion may not make a difference, but put together a dozen opinions and I suspect Council will start paying attention. The Citizen’s Finance Committee went nowhere, because the members didn’t bother to show up for the budget meetings. You don’t get the budget you deserve or want, you get the budget other’s think you need.

Addendum:

Once the final draft of the budget is made available I’ll provide a summary of the key points, most notably where the money is going. I am planning to comment on the updated capital projects list presented at last Tuesday’s budget once the document is made available. I had hoped it would be online by Friday. I will follow up with Staff on Monday to get a copy that can be shared with the public. It’s interesting, and so very expensive. One item was a $4 million property purchase. Another related to an Innovation Centre. Big plans and presumably big budgets. Does that translate into big taxes?