Barrie City Council tentatively approves 0.92 percent tax rate increase following twelve-hour debate and nearly 60 amendments

Final approval of budget expected at next week's council meeting

Short on time? Here’s what you need to know:
-After dipping into the city’s tax stabilization reserve, cutting back on the taxpayers’ contribution to a renewal fund, and applying some federal and provincial funding, council cut the 2021 property tax increase to a tentative 0.92 percent.

-Property taxes on the average Barrie home will increase by less than $40 as a result.
-Council voted to freeze water & wastewater rates for this year
-the budget receives final approval on Monday, January 25

Following a two-day marathon deliberation, Barrie council has given the initial nod to a 2021 budget that contains a 0.92 percent property tax increase. For comparison’s sake, your property taxes went up by 2.96 percent in 2020.

Councilors began picking apart the city’s operating and capital budget on Monday evening, looking for ways to save a buck. Through a series of amendments over the evening, councillors were able to hew back the operating budget, the part supported by property taxes, from 3.59 percent down to 0.92 over about twelve hours and nearly 60 amendments.

The overall rise in property taxes was significantly reduced early in deliberations, with Mayor Jeff Lehman pitching a pair of amendments to the budget: one to apply federal, provincial, and municipal funding to offset costs within the operating budget, another to cut down the taxpayer contribution to the city’s renewal fund. Both equalled nearly $5 million in savings.

RELATED: “TRYING TO DO A BUDGET RIGHT NOW IS LIKE TRYING TO VALUE YOUR HOUSE WHILE THE KITCHEN’S ON FIRE”

The first big-ticket alteration to the proposed budget saw the city pull some money it had tucked away in reserves, along with some federal and provincial funding on offer, to cut down the operating budget (the part of city’s expenses that property taxes cover) by over $3.5 million. A second proposal cut taxpayers’ contribution to the Infrastructure Renewal Fund from a full one percent down to .25 percent. What was going to be a $2.4 million price tag will be closer to $1.8 million bucks, should the budget receive final approval. The Infrastructure Renewal Fund goes towards improving the city’s roads. “It’s my goal, of course, to bring the tax increase a long way down from where it is,” said Lehman during Monday’s meeting.

Councillors would go on to vote to dip into a tax rate stabilization reserve to the tune of $1.4 million to further bring down the city’s property tax rate increase to below the one percent mark. “That’s why we have a tax rate stabilization reserve and if 2021 isn’t a rainy day type of year, I don’t know what possibly constitutes an unusual and difficult year,” commented Lehman.

Councillor Ann-Marie Kungl pushed for a just over $200,000 addition to the city’s parks, forestry, and beautification efforts, citing an increased demand on the city’s outdoor spaces over the course of the pandemic. Councillor Gary Harvey pitched an extra $35,000 to be included to add extra security to Holly Rec Centre, with concerns of an increase of incidences there. That includes reports of “fires being lit around the perimeter of the building,” according to the city’s General Manager of Community and Corporate Services, Dawn McAlpine. “We have had individuals bullied or prohibited from or blocked from entering or leaving the building. We’ve had groups of youth riding their bikes inside the building,” she continued, adding the city has been working with the Barrie Police Service on the issue.

RELATED: PLEA TO DIVERT POLICE FUNDING TOWARDS SOCIAL SERVICES FAILS

City council voted to shoot down an amendment by Councillor Keenan Aylwin to redirect five percent of the Barrie Police Services operating budget, some $2,864,000, towards regional and rapid housing. A pitch during capital budget discussions to contribute some $3 million towards exploring social housing received consent.

While council was able to tackle most of the operating budget over the course of its Monday evening meeting, the deliberation on the capital budget spilled over into a second meeting Tuesday, which came to an end shortly before 1 a.m. Wednesday. The capital budget is not financed by taxpayer dollars and covers such expenses as new machinery, equipment, and other additions to the city’s fleet of vehicles. Technology and building upgrades are also included in the capital budget as are infrastructure projects..

The city’s water and wastewater rates were frozen for 2021 through an amendment presented by Mayor Lehman that received unanimous consent from council; what you paid on the water and wastewater bill last year is what you will pay this year. Reason being, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. “People are home and that means they’re using a lot more water,” said Lehman Tuesday night. “The reality is we’ve had a shift a decrease in the non-residential water and wastewater use an increase in the residential. That means our house our average household is being hit harder because they’re home and the realities of COVID are driving up water bills.”

City staff were also asked to look into what effects could be expected should council decide to implement a water & wastewater bill deferral.

The proposed budget has yet to receive final approval. That is expected to come at the next meeting of Barrie City Council scheduled for Monday, January 25.