Collingwood and our Comparators


The recent KPMG presentation to council, May 13, included some interesting data about where Collingwood sits in several areas among its peers. These included staffing, parks, recreational facilities, taxes, debt ratios and operating costs. These figures were taken from data reported annually to the province.

KPMG selected six other Ontario municipalities as comparators: Owen Sound, Wasaga Beach, Midland, Bradford-West Gwillimbury, Orangeville and Port Hope. This represents a range of population from 16,214 (Port Hope) to 29,561 (Orangeville), and households from 6,750 (Port Hope) to 12,029 (Wasaga Beach). Data is current to 2011, but not 2012-13.

Collingwood (population 19,241, households 10,695) sits in the middle of the population range, but second highest in households. This is because we have both a high percentage of seniors and seasonal-home owners here (therefore smaller numbers of people per household). We are the second lowest in number of residents per household (1.79; Wasaga Beach is lower at 1.45) – every other community is between 2.14 (Midland) and 2.96 (Bradford-West Gwillimbury). The data doesn’t take into account the seasonal residents.

We are 3rd highest of the seven in reserves per household (more than $2,000). Unlike some municipalities, we have continued to build our reserves, rather than using a higher portion of our tax revenue for debt servicing. Orangeville was the lowest at under $500 per household, Owen Sound the highest at more than $2,500.

As a result, however, we are in the peer group second highest in debt per household (slightly higher than Bradford-West Gwillimbury at about $4,000 per household, but much lower than Port Hope at almost $6,000; Wasaga Beach was the lowest at under $1,000).

This debt comes, as the KPMG consultant noted, from capital expenditures last term, when the federal and provincial governments offered infrastructure funding based on matching funding from the municipality. This council has not incurred similar debts, but such opportunities have not presented themselves, either.

This debt spike is common across Ontario, the consultant noted. Many municipalities incurred significant debt to capitalize on the offered matching funds last term.

In taxes, we are fifth out of seven; the cost per average household is lower than Orangeville, Bradford-West Gwillimbury, Owen Sound and Midland (I admit that I did not ask if the value of average households in the other municipalities was similar to ours).

This is remarkable because our general government operating costs per household (not total) were the third highest of the seven. Our full-time staff complement (2011) is third in this group, after Owen Sound and Orangeville. But the difference between the top five in that chart was not very high: between roughly 200 at the top (Owen Sound) and 150 at the bottom (Bradford-West Gwillimbury), with Collingwood right in the middle.

As the charts showed, our expenditures climbed steadily from 2007-2010, but dropped this term in 2011 (and, although not shown in the data, in 2012 and will hold steady in 2013). A second chart showed that both our operating and capital expenses climbed in 2007-2010, but fell dramatically in 2011 (and have stayed fairly static since; our commitment to financial restraint).

Our fire service costs are the second highest (Collingwood has always show its commitment to citizen safety, but the size of the department was established by previous councils). Policing costs were not reported in the presentation.

Park costs per household were the highest of the group (about $160 per household, slightly higher than Owen Sound and well above the lowest, Bradford West-Gwillimbury, at about $50), while the cost of recreational facilities per household were second-lowest, (above only Wasaga Beach). Of course, this doesn’t take into account the new ice surface and covered pool which will both be active this year. It does underscore our commitment to parks and trails here.

However, as our treasurer noted, not all municipalities report costs and revenue the same way. We, for example, report revenue from ball diamonds and rec facilities as facility revenue, not recreational revenue, where some municipalities report them as parks revenue, which offsets their costs – resulting in a lower cost-per-household. These figures are not always apples-to-apples comparisons, she pointed out.

The chart also showed that we have one of the lowest cost-recovery systems (5-10% of actual costs) for rec usage of our peers – we subsidize a lot of local sports, far more so than our peers (except Bradford-West Gwillimbury, which has both the highest rec facilities per household and lowest cost recovery of the seven municipalities; Orangeville has the highest cost recovery at roughly 50%).

This was a policy decision made a long time ago, a commitment to local sports and teams, and councils ever since have followed that path. Subsidizing recreation helps encourage people and teams to participate and helps participation costs low, especially for low-income families and seniors.

In general, Collingwood was in the middle of the pack of the selected peer group in all areas.

The presentation was made in advance of a survey KPMG will send to members of council to help define our collective priorities and strategic direction.