PARRY SOUND - On Tuesday, council held one of several special meetings in an effort to reduce 2013 budget challenges.
A six-page document outlining potential new revenues and cost-reduction opportunities was presented to council for review.
Currently, the town’s overall debt, including that covered by sewer and water rates as well as a third party agreement at the Smelter Wharf, is $16.7 million, or $5,512 per household. If only the debt covered by general revenue is considered, it’s $6.2 million, or $2,054 per household.
Much of the debt was incurred through work substantially funded by upper levels of governments with stimulus funding during the recent recession and through G8 funding, including sewer and waterline upgrades.
“Staff have taken a two-year view of the budget reduction issue,” said town chief administrative officer Rob Mens in his report to council. “One-time revenues, such as the sale of surplus properties, will help bridge the budget challenges through 2013 and 2014, but this is not the long-term sustainability solution. The task trackers identify whether each opportunity is one-time or sustainable. The end objective is to realize at least $900,000 in sustainable reductions, savings and revenue.”
Among the items discussed where property sales, eliminating two crossing guard positions, switching to LED street lights, turning off some street lights, closing the Bobby Orr Community Centre during the off-season and a reduction in paper use.
Although staff couldn’t give council a cost associated with paper, Mens said a lot of staff time and paper use goes into each agenda package that is put together for council meetings.
Council asked whether electronic agendas had ever been considered.
“We’ve been working towards that, slowly but surely, looking at electronic agenda packages,” said town deputy clerk/executive assistant Jackie Boggs Tuesday night. “We don’t have the capability to do this right now, otherwise we would be doing it. So it’s a question of buying some software, loading it in properly so that it’s accessible to council and to members of the public as well.”
The estimated initial cost of the software is between $30,000 and $50,000.
“Not only savings on the paper, but the amount of time that Jackie and staff put into preparing these packages, how much more time is available to staff to do other things,” said Coun. Dan McCauley.
Staff will return to council at the end of November with an exact cost savings and assessment of staff time saved if it decides to implement an electronic agenda system.
Staff were also asked to return to council with a report for cost analysis of switching street lights to LEDs.
During the 90-minute meeting, staff were directed to write reports a number of times before the end of December, increasing the pressure to come up with solutions.
“I don’t know if there’s a sense of urgency, there’s a sense of importance, because of what the 2013 budget will look like if they (council) don’t address it,” said Mens Wednesday morning. “We started looking at (cost savings/revenue streams) back in May, this is just the first meeting that we’ve had, really, on the 2013 budget. Normally we wouldn’t have our first budget meeting until December. There certainly is, considerable pressure on staff to be able to provide council the information they need to make informed decisions on a number of the proposals put forward.”
No future meeting has been scheduled to deal with the other items listed on the 2013 Budget Tracker.