After returning to my hometown after a 50 year absence, I was stunned at what i found. What happened to the thriving small town I remembered? The name-brand main street stores were replaced by discount shops and the bustling sidewalks were largely empty with a few small groups of homeless huddling in the shelter of store entrances, like they were waiting for a bus. Then there were the homeless encampments in city treed areas and parks.
Even more shocking was the person I had to walk around, during an early morning walk, who was huddled in a sleeping bag on the sidewalk. I never thought I would see the day that people were sleeping on Owen Sound streets. How can Council allocate money to endless feasibility studies aimed at building a new $30 million Art Centre, while we have people sleeping on our streets?
In an attempt to find some answers I watched a few council meetings and began an extensive review of the city's audited financials. I also examined data compiled by Statistics Canada and several years of studies by BMA Consulting Inc, and documented all of my findings and recommendations in a Discussion Paper that I am happy to share with anyone who is interested. However, before I give you a sampling of what you will find on these pages, let me start by giving you my overall conclusion.
|Owen Sound is starving for Strong, Decisive Leadership at city
hall. Annual Budgets are routinely approved with unnecessarily large
increases. As a direct result Owen Sound's expense for employee's
salaries is $4 million more than Collingwood's - a municipality that
is larger than Owen Sound. As well there are 73 city employees with
salaries greater than $100,000 while Collingwood has only 47. Owen
Sound pays its senior staff $3 million more than Collingwood.
Here are my conclusions from my comparison of Owen Sound financials with those of the Town of Collingwood.
So, what did we learn from doing this comparison with Collingwood? We all knew before the comparison that Owen Sound hasn’t been growing for some time. So, it wasn’t a surprise that Owen Sound’s population and assessment was pretty much stagnant during the study period. It also wasn’t a surprise that Owen Sound’s taxes were much higher than Collingwood’s in spite of fact that Collingwood has a larger population. However, we did learn a few things about the depth of the impact our financial problems and about some of the driving forces behind the annual taxes that were consistently increased each year at a rate that was twice the rate of inflation. Below is a brief summary:
In summary it is clear to me that Owen Sound has expenses that, at a minimum, are $3 million more than they really need to be. We currently have a serious problem in our community where some of our residents are living in tents and sleeping in the streets. If Council were to begin to practice sound financial management and reduce expenses by at least $3 million we could subsidize housing for the 300 to 500 unhoused residents in Owen Sound by implementing a “Housing First” program.
The Average Household Income in Owen Sound is the lowest in Southern Ontario at $75.861.
Owen Sound residents have to pay 1.2% more of their income, than Collingwood residents, to cover their taxes each year. For someone earning $76,000 per year this works out to about $1,000 per year. For renters you can be sure that your landlord passes the cost of the annual tax increases to you.
The Median Value of a dwelling in Owen Sound is $117,000 less than that in Collingwood. You would think that would result in lower taxes given the lower property values. But the data shows otherwise.
The city of Owen Sound’s expenses are dramatically more than those of Collingwood. In spite of Collingwood being the larger municipality, Owen Sound’s expenses for Salaries, Wages and Benefits were nearly $4 million more than Collingwood’s in 2020.
Salaries, Wages and Benefits for Protective Services were $14.2 million in 2020 and represented 55% of all city salaries & benefits paid by the city in 2020.
The cost of salaries & benefits for Fire Services were relatively equal to Collingwood’s; however, the cost of salaries & benefits for Police Services were significantly higher than Collingwood’s and similarly sized municipalities.
In 2021 Owen Sound had 73 employees with salaries greater than $100,000 as opposed to only 47 employees in the Town of Collingwood, in spite of Collingwood being the larger municipality.
Thirty-six of the 73 employees with salaries greater than $100,000, were employed in Police Services.
Owen Sound paid $3 million more in salaries to employees earning more than $100,000 than Collingwood.
|Owen Sound has the unique distinction of being one of the highest taxed communities in Ontario and at the same time one of the poorest communities.|
|Read the pages in the menu at the left to learn how bad it really is and refer to my recommendations at the bottom-left to see how we can turn this around.|
|** taken from the 2022 budget posted on the city website. Check it Out - note the link is labeled "Final - Reduced"|
|Click on the icons below to take a quick look at how Owen Sound compares to its neighbours.|
|COMMERCIAL TAXES||RESIDENTIAL TAXES||RATE COMPARISON||TAX COMPARISON||INCOME COMPARISON|