Tuesday, March 7th, 2023

Comments for Special Council to Receive Public Input

Re: Draft 2023 Operating Budget

Good evening your worship and councillors.

My name is Tom Grajnar.  My address is Skeleton Lake, Muskoka, Ontario.  I am commenting on the draft 2023 Operating Budget on behalf of the Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association.

It is often helpful to provide some historical perspective to better understand and plan for one’s future.  The MRA would like to comment on the Operations Budgets of the last three councils in their “Forgiveness Year”.  In 2015 operating expenses were $9.25 million, in 2019 they increased 37% and in the draft 2023 Budget they are up 63% over 2015.  Just as a comparison, the levy from 2015 to draft 2023 is up 64%.  All this over a time frame that saw annual inflation in the 1 to 2% range, some months were even deflationary.  The real inflation ramp up started in the Spring of 2021 and seems to have peaked last Summer.  It is currently trending downward.  From the end of 2014 to the end of 2022 the Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased 23% versus the projected TML spend increase of 63% with relatively minor changes in service levels.  This helps to reinforce the MRA’s perception that governments find it very easy to spend other peoples’ money.

The MRA is going to spend most of our allocated time commenting on the TML’s major spend – Wages and Benefits:

In 2015 and 2019 Wages and Benefits represented about 55 and 52% respectively of total expenditures.  In the draft budget for 2023 Wages and Benefits are 62% of total expenditures excluding earmarks.  The MRA finds these trends totally unacceptable.

The TML has earmarked 4 additional positions that are unbudgeted enhancements.  Council should be acutely aware that each added employee is a multi million-dollar expense – not just the partial wage in the year they are hired.  The MRA has never seen a right-sizing of government departments.  Adding an employee is always that gift that keeps on consuming taxpayer dollars in perpetuity.  The addition of the Septic Inspector in 2023 shows no costs, but the anticipated permit fees that are collected in future years.  The MRA asks the obvious question, what about office furniture, computers, office space and a vehicle for an inspector – what and where are these costs considered?

This budget is proposing an almost 7% cost of living adjustment for salaried employees.  The MRA believes the provincial and federal governments, as well as private industry are looking at this post pandemic surge in inflation to be temporary.  Belt tightening is expected especially for those who are still employed during a recession.

The MRA does not want to seem cruel, but TML salaried staff enjoy relatively secure tenure, they get added compensation via pay band adjustments and every 4 or 5 years every salaried job is examined against peer groups and compensation is adjusted.  The MRA does not recollect adjustments ever being revised downward.

The MRA would also point out that many of the numbers above are probably much better than indicated for TML salaried personnel, because about a third of the township work force are hourly paid employees, locked into multiyear contracts that dictate wage increases in the 2% range.  A long way from that proposed for salaried employees.  Council needs to thoroughly review staffing levels and compensation practices independently of staff recommended and appointed compensation consultants.

The MRA is pleased that after our comments last year, Director of Financial Services, Mark Donaldson has retendered the TML insurance policies to the benefit of a 40% reduction in premiums.   The MRA hopes this is not just a teaser rate and is sustainable over multiple years, however the TML must ensure our risk mitigation practices are top drawer and being incorporated to minimize claims and premium increases.

The last point we hopefully have time to make, is the $25,000 approved in the Capital Budget to paint Railroad Bridges in Bala.  The MRA does not believe TML should capitalize costs to paint a third party’s bridge.  We believe it should be expensed and that the monies should be appropriated from the funds Swift River Energy Limited (SREL) provided for the benefit of people in Bala. Hopefully something appropriate like a mural or slogan can be designed and get CP’s approval to amplify the benefit.

The MRA thanks Council for the opportunity to present our input on the 2023 TML Operating Budget

The Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association Board of Directors

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

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