Thursday, February 28, 2013

Skiing in Stowe Vermont

  I recently returned from a ski vacation in Stowe Vermont, this was my second trip back having last skied there in March of last year. 
  Stowe offers up some great skiing and snowboarding for persons of all levels so I can highly recommend it as an ideal family destination for various ski and snowboarding abilities.  The resort is nestled at the base of Mt Mansfield which at 4,395' is the highest peak in Vermont.  Vermont in itself is a beautiful state with the "Green Mountains" stretching as far as the eye can see.  The entire state has a population of just over 625,000 according to the last U.S. census making Vermont 45th out of the 50 states in terms of area and is 49th in terms of population.  Wyoming is the only state with fewer people.
  Seemingly, one of the more notable runs at Stowe and rated as one of the best ski runs in the U.S. is called "Nosedive."  Frequently when riding up the gondola, fellow passengers would ask "have you skied Nosedive today?"  As the name implies, Nosedive which first opened in 1935 has a fairly steep pitch which then flattens out part way down to an intermediate rated slope.  The tricky part is near the top where a steep narrow chute takes you down to the main part of the hill.  My first run down Nosedive last year found the chute portion to be glare ice with a couple of inches of powder snow on top requiring some deft edging of the skis to navigate your way down. This year despite yet another below average amount of snow in Vermont this winter, conditions were vastly improved with 6" or 8" of fresh powder to enjoy on the first day.
  One of the many great attractions in the village of Stowe is a fabulous ski museum.  It features an outstanding array of ski gear, clothing and even lifts from years gone by.  How we skied and survived using some of that equipment is almost beyond comprehension.
For more photos of Stowe visit my Pinterest page.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Area Property Tax Comparison

Many local homeowners and clients have called me in recent weeks to obtain information that will assist them in appealing their recent property assessments. I had a call over this past weekend from a local real estate appraiser working on such a project for a client. 
  In some instances we have seen some recent property assessments that have increased as much as 40% and more.  The good news is, those assessments are still below current market value nonetheless the prospect of a huge tax increase is frightening to most homeowners.
 As per my previous posting, Collingwood property owners were recently treated to a mid-term update from our municipal Council entitled "Half Time News and Updates."  In this newsletter we were informed so-to-speak that Collingwood Council had "kept taxes and user fees low" and "kept taxes and user fees low again" in year one and two respectively.  There was nothing given to substantiate the claims as to Collingwood taxes being kept low so my question to members of Council (as yet unanswered ) was just how low is low?
  The attached graph depicts what the 2012 property taxes would amount to on a residential property with an assessed value of $250,000 in the various municipalities around our region.  To no surprise, the Town of Meaford gets the nod for having the highest residential taxes in the area.  Meaford lacks the commercial tax base that exists in some of our other area municipalities which places the full burden of operating the municipality on the shoulders of residential homeowners.  Collingwood comes in at the number two position with taxes that are 6% to 24% higher than the neighbouring municipalities of the Blue Mountains, Clearview and Wasaga Beach.
  As humans, two things we all complain about is the weather and taxes and that will unlikely never change.  Nonetheless, in a community whose economy is increasingly driven by lower paying retail and service industry jobs and one which has to this point been an attractive location for fixed income retirees to move to, having the second highest rate of taxes in the area is not an enviable position to be in.  Higher taxes erodes the budget of fixed income property owners and further will impact those lower income earners living in rental properties as well. Once the $12 million so-called "tax neutral" recreational facilities are up and running, who knows what impact they will have on Collingwood's future tax rates via the annual operating costs associated with those facilities.  Then again, since Collingwood does not have the highest residential tax rate in the region, I guess this fits someone's definition of "low."

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Collingwood Council's Half Time "Show"

Once again our utility bill for the past month from Collus was extra thick due to the "Half Time" news and update provided to us, a courtesy from Town Council.  After digesting this unsolicited and unwanted information, I sent the following response to each of the members of Council expressing my displeasure.  

To Mayor Cooper and Honourable Members of Council,

In speaking with many of my fellow constituents in Collingwood, the majority of us either object to or simply do not care to read the political propaganda that is all too frequently being included with our monthly billings from Collus.

Notwithstanding the fact that campaigning for the next term is two years away, the content as contained in the “Half Time” news and updates is nothing more than self proclaimed accolades with accomplishments that are either superficial and or are in no way quantified in terms of meeting any meaningful goals and or objectives. Further the publication itself, portrayed as a weak analogy to a sports event, does not represent the seriousness with which you should be managing what amounts to a relatively large corporation with millions of dollars in debt.

Amongst your highlights you claim the following:

In year one, “kept property taxes and user fees low” and in year two “kept taxes and user fees low again.” Compared to what?


In year one, “lowered the Town’s outstanding debt from $41 million” To what? and “topped up our financial reserves.” By how much?

In year two, “lowered the debt to $37 million by year-end” From what prior level? and “Topped up reserves.” Again by how much? Nothing is quantified in terms of the debt reduction or how much was added to the reserves.


In year one, “Reduced municipal spending” and “Significantly reduced legal costs.” Again bold claims, nothing is quantified.


In year one, “Approved new developments including Creekside and Mountaincroft.” Not true, these developments were underway well before this term of Council.


In year two, Purchased new Works and Parks & Recreation Dept. property and building at much less than the appraised value.” How many appraisals were obtained? How is an 18,000 square foot building on 5 acres appraised at more than the $2.25 million purchase price when the 200,000 square foot Goodyear facility on 60 acres sold for $1.5 million? The Goodyear sale should have clearly impacted the appraisal of the 10th Line property. That’s how real estate works and this clearly suggests the Town overpaid considerably for this property.


In year two, “Developed a tax-neutral solution to build much needed, new recreational facilities through the use of Sprung technologies.” You committed to spend over $12 million dollars and in the process divided the community in terms of what recreational facilities people wanted and needed to best serve the municipality’s. Operational costs for the Sprung buildings is a complete unknown at this point. Whatever they are they will result in added annual operating expenses on the Town’s budget moving forward yet the claim is being made that this entire recreational initiative is “tax neutral?”

Some of the accomplishments not mentioned are as follows:

In a municipality desperately in need of strong day-to-day management the CAO was let go and taxpayers have no idea as to why. We have no economic development Officer and or initiatives to implement an employment strategy that will replace the hundreds of jobs lost in the community since the shipyards closed in 1986. Instead, you tout your noteworthy accomplishments as being “improved signage on local trails, initiated a natural heritage study, approved a community garden project” amongst other so called highlights that do not represent the key issues affecting the community nor are they initiatives that offer any tangible form of success measurement.

Moving forward the “Second Half Game Plan” is said to be the following:


“Continue to keep taxes and municipal costs low.” What is the definition of low? There are no tax or cost reduction goals indicated. How is Council’s performance to be measured without them?


“Reduce the outstanding debt even more.” How much is “even more” and how with this be accomplished?


“Engage a communications co-odinator to improve social media engagement.” Not only do most people have no idea what this is, co-ordinator is spelled a wrong. This vaguely referred to position sounds like more cost at a time when you are claiming you will “continue to keep taxes and municipal costs low?

Admiral Collingwood & The Shipyards

“Encourage the developers to finish the project this term.” You have no influence and or control over essentially what the market will dictate and seemingly the market has delivered a verdict on both of these projects.”

In closing, the citizens of Collingwood are in need of and are entitled to a great deal more from our elected officials than a Half Time “show.” Many of the so-called accomplishments outlined in this newsletter are unsubstantiated and superficial in nature that need not consume 4 pages in colour no less. Based on my many years of experience, I can assure you that your unsupported claims of success would never pass scrutiny in a corporate boardroom or at a shareholder’s meeting.

The only meaningful “score” will be the one made come election day when the citizens of Collingwood cast their ballots. Then and only then will we see how many “touchdowns” you the current Council members will achieve.

You’ve asked for suggestions, comments and ideas and I have responded as I hope other will as well. Please endeavour to use our tax dollars wisely, refrain from any further unnecessary and unwanted insertions in our Collus bills or elsewhere. I encourage you to manage the Town’s resources as you would your own. Come election time you will have ample opportunity to tout your accomplishments using the appropriate funds from your personal campaign budgets versus the money entrusted to you by the taxpaying community.

Respectful submitted,

Rick Crouch

I consider this mid-term self assessment of Council's achievements tantamount to having your child write their own report card.  We deserve a much higher level accountability from our elected officials.  What are your thoughts?

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