Tuesday, March 7th, 2023

Comments for Special Council to Receive Public Input

Re: Draft 2023 Capital Budget

Good Evening your Worship and Councillors.

My name is  Don Furniss, and my address is Beaumaris Ontario. I am commenting on the  2023 Township Capital Budget on behalf of the Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association.

The Township of Muskoka Lakes is over 50 years old.  It was formed by the consolidation of 10 former municipalities when the province created the District of Muskoka in 1970.   Unfortunately, TML inherited all the infrastructure of those municipalities, who not only performed TML functions but also District functions.  No council over the past 50 years has had the intestinal fortitude to think, plan and construct what TML really needed for the past 50 years, nor the next 50.

Hopefully in the first 90 days of this council you are seeing first hand the costs associated with keeping far too many obsolete facilities in today’s modern, insurance and litigation driven environment. i.e.  stoves, furnaces and accessible washroom retrofits in community centres.

The MRA believes that before any significant capital is spent on community centres, firehalls and arenas a comprehensive study needs to be done to assess what TML really needs, to be an economically vibrant community that is prudently run with best governance practices for the next 50 years.  Unused facilities should be sold to fund new builds.  If Council wants a template – look to Bracebridge with a new firehall, Sportsplex, twin rinks, field house and library, oh and a relatively new town hall and works yard.

The following points are specific to the Capital Budget:

  1. In the MRA’s opinion the proposed studies and capital to rehabilitate the Burgess Dam should be terminated. Spending millions of dollars on this project to garner $18K per year in revenue from the leasee is lunacy.  The MRA strongly suggests that the lease be terminated via force majure, that the TML work with the MNRF and SREL to exit the water management plan, sell the water rights to SREL, get permission to fill the Millstream with suitable material to prevent water flow and then demolish the dam and power station.  In the MRA’s opinion this is the only logical and economically viable solution to get rid of this 100 year old albatross around the township’s neck.
  2. The MRA is dismayed that not one councillor wanted to see historical capital project detail. At a minimum, the MRA wants to see a listing of each capital project with the capital spend for 2021, the 2022 budget by project indicating those projects completed, under construction, terminated or postponed plus the actual or forecast costs.  It is incomprehensible to the MRA that this is not available, especially when capital costs for 2023 are projected to be three million dollars (35%) higher than they were in last years’ ten year capital plan.   In order to effectively evaluate and comment on the capital spend, the MRA needs this information, we are gobsmacked that council can approve in principle spending over $11 million without it.
  3. It is the MRA’s understanding that a 6% annual inflation factor has been incorporated into the 10 year capital budget. This level of inflation is unrealistic based on economic forecasts and Bank of Canada projections.  This will introduce huge errors into any forecasting model.  The MRA supports keeping the current budget year actuals and using constant dollar projections as in the past.  Of course, TML must keep in mind that other factors will ultimately impact final costs over a multi year (annually updated) forecast. This seems to be a much more prudent approach, especially if adequate reserves are maintained.
  4. With ageing infrastructure there is also the tendency to fix and patch rather than implement a fulsome capital renovation. Unfortunately, this usually adds to operating expenses and ultimately greater capital expenditures in the end.
  5. Coupled with number 4, is the MRAs’ concern that capital projects are being under scoped and/or underfunded. The MRA will provide Council with a recent anecdotal example:

Could I ask the Acting Clerk to share the bridge photo for everyone. The Township spent over a million dollars rehabilitating the 60 year old Beaumaris Bridge two years ago.  Unfortunately, the 2 central concrete support pillars are badly eroded exposing rebar and even steel pilings to the elements.   Rehabilitating these pillars should have been part of the scope of the original project.   Now the TML needs to fund another study, let tenders and mobilize another contractor to rehab this part of the bridge.  The construction cost of this project is unknown and not in the capital budget.

  1. The unbudgeted future capital ear marks such as the $50 million for a new administrative building and firehalls etc. should be part of the process outlined in the MRA’s opening comments.

The MRA thanks Council and Staff for the opportunity to once again provide our brief comments on this years Capital Budget.

The Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association Board of Directors

For our comments on the 2023 Draft Operating Budget – Click Here

For our comments on the 2023 Draft Budget Reserves – Click Here