Barrie city council approves lowest property tax increase in 20 years

Mayor touts new south end library, road work despite tightening purse strings

With COVID-19 still a major player in the community and many people reeling financially as a result of the pandemic, Barrie city council held the line on a significant tax increase this year.

In fact, the 0.9 per cent tax increase approved at city council Monday night was the lowest in 20 years, according to a tweet by Mayor Jeff Lehman.

“It’s clear that this is not the year for a significant tax increase,” said Lehman. “Our residents are currently facing a new and deeper round of economic uncertainty due to the pandemic. This was an extremely challenging budget year, but I’m very pleased we were able to bring the tax increase down from 3.8 per cent to 0.9 per cent. We did this by making some very hard choices, like using $1.75 million from the Alectra community reinvestment reserve, to offset the tax base. The reserve is typically used to fund projects that have a benefit to the community—this year the biggest benefit to our community is keeping the tax increase down.”

The average homeowner will pay another $40 on a typical home assessed at $367,550, bringing taxes on such a property to $4,494.

Residents in south Barrie got their wish as council approved the city’s third library branch, to be located in a storefront plaza in the area of Essa Road and Mapleton Avenue. The funding will be withheld until there is a lease agreement between the landlord and the city. The capital cost for the new library is $1.8 million, to be covered from fundraising and development charges. The annual operating cost is nearly $724,000, with salaries and benefits tapping $221,000 of that. The library has a branch downtown and another in the area of Yonge Street and Big Bay Point Road.

There is also $57.3 million for the Barrie Police Service, an increase of 2.65 per cent over last year. Salaries and benefits account for 95.7 per cent of the police budget, to cover the tab for 244 officers and 118 civilians. There is no money for new hires, while the service will spend $140,000 to equip 140 officers with body cameras.

Councillors also pushed down the tax increase by cutting the one per cent dedicated infrastructure renewal fund to 0.25 per cent, which is money used to replace and renew roads, pipes and buildings.

Despite the cut, there is major road work ahead that should especially please residents in the east end with the reconstruction of Bell Farm Road, while in the south end, Bryne Drive will be completed, and the Highway 400 overpass connecting Big Bay Point and Harvie Road will finally open.

The 2021 operating budget includes:

  • Funding for new permanent traffic calming measures to create safer roads.
  • In recognition that more people will be spending time outdoors, continued investments will be made in parks and the waterfront with more furniture.
  • Plans to modernize parking, moving away from paper parking passes by digitalizing various parking passes such as downtown monthly permits, resident waterfront permits, other potential residential area permits, or special event parking permits.
  • New investments in economic development to position the city for recovery following the pandemic.
  • New investments to address growing demand for customer service and by-law enforcement.

Some key projects in the 2021 capital budget include:

  • New library branch in the Holly area.
  • Construction of Allandale Transit Mobility Hub. The terminal will coordinate local and regional transit services with seamless connections.
  • Land acquisition for a new Fire Station to service the Mapleview Road and Prince William Way area.
  • The completion of Bryne Drive from Caplan Avenue to Harvie Road to reduce traffic congestion at the Essa Road and Mapleview Drive interchanges by redirecting east / west traffic to the Harvie Road / Big Bay Point Road Highway Crossing.
  • Expansion of Essa Road from Coughlin Road to Mapleview Drive West.
  • Bell Farm Road reconstruction.
  • Completion of the Harvie Road bridge.
  • Continued focus on addressing the condition of roads and saving money over the long term with the road resurfacing program.
  • Several stormwater projects to address regulatory compliance, protect Lake Simcoe and reduce flooding.

“Our Council is also making a significant investment into the County’s Long Term Care facilities and staff will be reporting back on additional investments in affordable housing, economic development, and the social determinants of health,” explained Lehman.

Council also approved a 2.48 per cent increase to water rates and the wastewater rates were frozen for 2021. New rates come into effect in May of each year, and for a typical Barrie home consuming 180 cubic metres of water annually, the water bill will increase by $8.83.

Residential property tax bill funds are allocated to City services (56 per cent), education (13 per cent as mandated by the Province) and Service Partners (31 per cent between the Barrie Police Service, County of Simcoe, Public Libraries, etc.). The Business Plan & Budget will be funded through property taxes, user fees and other financing sources.