About that Budget (2017-18)

I haven’t been browsing through the Town’s website for a while so the new (to me) web format was a surprise. It is organized as a straight-forward directory to easily locate basic town departments or services such as recreation programs or business-related information.

Although visitors are invited to download the proposed budget document, I’m not sure many people would have. The proposed tax increases stem in part from an earlier (Draft) Long Range Financial Plan prepared by Hemson Consulting in February 2016. Council subsequently approved a Multi-Year Budgeting Policy in May 2016.

A discussion of the “draws, contributions and balances” of the Capital Reserves “shows that … in key periods, from 2019 to 2022 and 2026 to 2027, Capital Reserves will be insufficient to fund capital needs …” Continue reading

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Sunny Days in Innisfil

The annual Sunshine List was released a few weeks ago documenting who in the public sector was paid $100,000 or more, sometimes much more, per year.

Obviously, those with the power and opportunity fare better than the rest of us. That includes politicians who vote their own salaries, administrators and executives who set their own budgets, and organized labour that negotiate collective agreements.

With the release of the Panama Papers, it should be evident that the Sunshine List just acts as a distraction from the shenanigans of the One Percent in the private sector. There, multi-million dollar rewards top the list, and it finances specialists who hide assets offshore. Outrageous stories make the news, like the 20% pay raise (to almost $20 million) for the CEO of BP Oil while losing $6.5 billion on operations.

Even the language used is revealing. The wealthy rely on tax “havens”, a place of safety or refuge …. or a tax “shelter”, a protection or shield from something harmful. Lesser beings might be accused of participating in an “underground economy” or “black market”. What is “wealth management” to some is “tax evasion” for others.

Still, the Sunshine List is significant because the average Ontario salary, around $49,000, is about half of the list’s bottom entry point. Statistics Canada reported the average income in Innisfil was $38,893 at the last census in 2011.

I haven’t seen much in the way of analysis of the Sunshine List so I thought I would have a look at some historical data for Innisfil. There are some interesting trends:  Continue reading

Back to Numbers, Not Measures

Regular readers may recall that I mentioned Ontario’s Municipal Performance Measurement Program (MPMP) here a few times. I went so far as to compile some comparison tables that are still posted on this blog under the “By the Numbers” tab (above). Since the last published data was from 2011, I thought that a breezy warm day would be a good time to update some of this information. But the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing informs me that the program was killed a year ago.

“Effective for the 2014 reporting year, changes were made to reduce the reporting burden of municipalities.  The collection of Municipal Performance Measurement Program (MPMP) measures are no longer required, and have been replaced by Schedule 80D of the Financial Information Return (FIR).”

MPMP was a logically constructed and systematic attempt to measure municipal services performance. Only researchers and analysts like myself might miss it, but it was an intriguing set of data that pulled back the numerical curtain on the inner workings of municipalities. For good measure, the government also deleted from its website the Annual MPMP summary reports that compiled performance data from all of Ontario’s municipalities. Several year’s reports can still be found archived on the web regardless. It would have been interesting to have a longer historical span of data, say 10 years, to look at. MPMP could have continued to apply only to median sized, and larger, municipalities.

Schedule 80D is a simplified numbers dump that doesn’t attempt to provide any performance measure. One step forward, two steps back in the campaign for open and transparent government. MPMP was useful though, in presenting a functional template for the analysis of municipal performance even though municipalities themselves resisted compiling the data and obviously didn’t use it.

The Comparator Trap

Council gave approval to what might have been considered a routine housekeeping matter – updating a list of municipalities to which Innisfil is compared. These “municipal comparators are used for a variety of research and analysis purposes including best practice reviews, recruitment practices, and compensation” according to the staff report. Comparative municipalities are chosen “based on their size, geographic proximity, similarity in the scope of services delivered. It is also recognized that the Town competes with them for talent in the employment market.”

The ‘outdated’ list consisted of 9 other municipalities ranging in size from 19,241(Collingwood) to the City of Barrie (136,000). The new comparator list approved by Council consists of 14 other municipalities ranging from Collingwood to the City of Vaughan (288,301) plus the County of Simcoe (446,000). This list, prepared by a consulting firm at the request of staff, purportedly “maintains the Town’s “mid-market” positioning” but increases the average population size from 72,011 to 147,750 – an increase of 105%. The staff report claims this is “to capture the current and anticipated growth of the Town, as well as highlighting an expanded attracting and retention focus.”

The over-riding assumption is that we must compete with, i.e. out-bid, other municipalities, and the County, for the best administrative candidates. Let’s face it – this is a mug’s game. Continue reading

Innisfil – Taking Care of Business

Residents who toured the new headquarter building of Innpower on April 11 learned that the west end of the building is unfinished and unoccupied. The intention was to provide now for future utility staff requirements that are 10 to 20 years in the future. As Innpower’s CEO put it in September, 2014, “The building footprint takes into consideration the growth demands for our respective communities.”

The original concept was to lease the vacant space (about 4,000 square feet on 2 floors) to private companies. The leasee would be expected to finish the interior space including drywall and electrical wiring at its own expense. At the time of the building’s public Open House, Innpower staff said that leases would generate revenue until the space was required for Innpower employees.

Meanwhile, back in March, Council was presented with a report describing a County initiative to partner with the Greater Barrie Business Enterprise Centre (GBBEC) “to increase accessibility to services/support to Simcoe County entrepreneurs by adding a mobile Small Business Consultant dedicated to providing in-market services …”. This was to be a two-year pilot project to provide a full-time small business consultant whose mandate would be “to deliver core business advisory services, business plan development, seminar/workshop delivery, [and] youth entrepreneur programs …”. (GBBEC is being renamed the Small Business Enterprise Centre)  Continue reading

Innisfil’s Alternative Revenue Source

I’ve been trying to pick up a few loose ends from earlier stories. One of them is the fallout from the reorganization of the OLG slots program. After the original announcement that revenue sharing with the racetracks would be discontinued, OLG negotiated settlements to compensate those racing venues that had invested to expand gaming operations. Great Canadian Gaming, operator of Georgian Downs, received $31.5 million in 2013 as part of that process. There was concern that Innisfil’s share of slots revenue – the Alternative Revenue Source – would abruptly become unpredictable. For a time, Innisfil Council suspended the program of community grants. They have since been revived. Applications are currently being accepted for $56,000 in community grants. They will be reviewed for approval in mid-March. Another round of grants will be considered in September. Back in 2009 as western economies were tipping off a cliff, the Town had budgeted for $5.2 million in slot revenue. The actual amount received was $4,863,767. In 2010, the Town was still forecasting up to $7.2 million in ‘alternative’ revenue for 2011 and beyond although actual revenue figures probably turned out to be much lower. Since then, budgeted alternative source revenue has returned to 2009 levels. In 2013, slots revenue was budgeted at $4.2 million; in 2014 it increased to $4.3 million; and Innisfil’s draft 2015 budget puts OLG revenue at $4.9 million. (Actual revenue figures are not provided in the budget documents.) (Update: Last year’s OLG revenue was reported to be $5,039,443 after this article was published.) So far, Innisfil continues to collect its golden eggs – not too large, not too small. To put it in perspective, the average household tax bill in 2014 was $3,315. Innisfil’s Alternative Revenue Source in 2014 was equivalent to the residential tax from 1,297 ‘average’ households.