Publisher’s Column: Faced with an Impossible Choice — What Would You Do?

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By John Francis

And so! Another season begins.

Our last chance to park at McCurdy Street without a reservation. Our last chance to go to all our favourite places and have them to ourselves. That all ends next Friday.

Starting on Saturday, there’ll be line-ups. At restaurants, at ticket booths, at bathrooms, at national park entry points. Is this disappointing to the people in those lines? Or is that what they drove up here for?

I’m pretty sure it’s disappointing to come up here and find everything is booked solid. But what about the people who manage to find a line to wait in — are they frustrated that they have to wait or delighted that they got to do something?

Four of us from the Press went to a trade show in Toronto on May 13, to touch base with our suppliers and see what new technologies and techniques there are for signage and packaging. There are lots of new products that will help make a sign that stands out, lots of new ways to string branding ideas together to define corporate identity. We can’t wait to show them to our customers.

But the biggest impression I came away with was not the technology — it was the longing in people’s eyes when they saw “Tobermory” on our badges.

“I really want to come up there this summer,” they’d tell me. “Maybe some Saturday, I’ll drive up…”

Whew! Where do you start? “Wait ‘til September,” I’d reply. “And come up on a weekday. You’ll love it.”

Am I wrong? How about you? What do you tell people?

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Northern Bruce Peninsula Council got a couple of nasty surprises at their May 8 Meeting. Paving and aggregate prices, which rose spectacularly last year, did not fall as expected. Instead they rose further. And this trend may not be over.

The quotes were for “surface treatment” (paving) and “microsurfacing” (that fine-grained stuff they put on top of existing pavement — it’s so smooth you can skateboard on it). Surface treatment was up 35% last year; this year it’s up another 9% (and the higher of the two tenders was another 15% above that). On microsurfacing, the price went up 25% in 2022 and another 16% this year. In this case, the higher of the two quotes received  was an astonishing 38% higher yet. It would seem prudent to assume we got a bargain and that we should not count on getting the same price next year.

On the first of these items, Mayor Milt McIver commented that this is a bit of an increase over last year, but that the municipality could take money out of reserves. The year-over-year increase of 9% is a lot better than the 35% it went up last year, but the next item on the Agenda is just as bad, needing another withdrawal from reserves. This is a discussion we need to have as a council, he continued – do we allow this to fall behind or do we address it?

There are essentially two choices — either pull the money out of reserves or cut back on road maintenance. If we choose to pull the money out of reserves, we have the option of increasing the levy (tax rate) next year to put the money back into reserves. The Mayor was quite clear that he does not support any reduction in service levels.

Public Works Manager Troy Cameron gave a “paving 101” explanation for the new Councillors — microsurfacing is a way to resurface an existing paved road. “It doesn’t fix anything — it just coats it,” sealing the existing pavement and offering a very smooth surface. Surface treatment converts a gravel road to a paved road. It involves three separate layers.

The public works manager made it clear that he is expecting pricing to rise even further next year. Trucking, diesel fuel and tar are all much more expensive than they were two years ago and still rising. The alternative to paving is to just keep putting more gravel on existing gravel roads, but as Councillor Smokey Golden pointed out, the price of gravel is due to go up quite a bit, whereas if you pave a road, it should be maintenance-free for 7 to 10 years. “Rock and a hard place,” she commented. 

The costs are going up at a much faster rate than the municipal budget.

So what should we do? Let our roads deteriorate or raise taxes to fix them? Bearing in mind that such a tax increase does not actually improve anything — it just allows us to not fall behind.

Rock and a hard place indeed.

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So — Council is left with three ugly choices:

• Cut back on road maintenance and stay within the budget;

• Pull the money out of reserves and hope the prices go down by next year; or

• do the maintenance you scheduled and raise taxes to balance next year’s budget and top up the reserves.

The fourth choice — my favourite — isn’t even on the list: raise taxes to maintain the roads and then raise them a bit more to build walkways, fix the Rotary Hall and put a town water system in at Tobermory.

Over to you. If you were on Council, what would you do? (By the way — it wouldn’t hurt to let your Council know what you think…)