Barrie City Hall Approves 2.96% Tax Increase In Face of Provincial Downloading

The Average Barrie Home's Tax Bill Is Expected to Increase By About $122

The City of Barrie has given the final nod to a 2.96% increase to its operating and capital budget, balancing out to an about a $122 increase on the average $351,000 Barrie home (as assessed, and not based on the home’s market value). Through a series of tweaks, the city was able to trim 0.09% to the budget as tentatively approved last week.

The 2020 budget includes money that covers the cost of the social services that help us out, the law and order that keeps us safe, along with the roads and transit we use to get around, despite provincial downloading.

The city approved a $362 million operating budget and a $198 million capital budget. Essentially, the former covers the costs of running the city, the latter in building it.

Provincial Downloading

“There’s only one taxpayer.” was a refrain repeated several times over the course of the council’s budget deliberations. “When the province dumps costs on us,” said Mayor Jeff Lehman, “what it does is puts us in the position of either backfilling the reduction in provincial funding, or saying ‘okay, we’re going to accept the services to our residents is reduced.’ so it kind of makes us the bad guys.” In the city’s budget executive summary, it indicates that as a result of budget cuts on the provincial level, $2.3 million has been added to the city’s bottom line. That added an extra 0.95% to the overall tax increase.

Helping Out

Funding towards the social services that help out Barrie residents saw an overall increase in funding this year, including increased funding to the county paramedic services, while one program benefitting social housing took a hit.

A new community improvement plan designed, in part, to spur the growth of affordable housing in the city was projected to cost $2.5 million to operate fully; council voted to contribute $1,000,000 to the plan instead. ‘Not this year, not with all the downloading from the province,” Councillor Mike McCann said to a voted-down motion to increase the contribution. “I can’t walk out there and tell people we just raised their property taxes,” added Councillor Gary Harvey, “just to put it towards a CIP.”

That said, the city has agreed to contribute about $6.35 million towards the County of Simcoe’s housing programs, both the Simcoe County Housing Corporation and Not-for-Profit Social Housing.

The amount of money the city contributes to the county’s Paramedics Services is increasing by about $744,000 this year, with a final cost of $7 million.

Related: County, Library Compensating for Cuts in Preparing Annual Budgets

The Barrie Public Library’s request for funding was approved, for the most part; council voted to decrease the library’s ask by $115,000, in part as it was felt the library did not require the additional security requested.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit requested $2.3 million, a 30% increase in funding over last year, but Barrie council saw fit to reduce that amount by just over $400,000, saying some added costs in the health unit’s budget were a result of provincial downloading. “We can’t keep going to the well,” said Councillor Robert Thomson.

Law and Order

The Barrie Police budget presented to council two weeks ago was given the nod with one minor change. After double-checking, the Barrie Police Service was able to reduce the amount of long-term disability benefits costs, balancing out to an about $300,000 reduction in the Service’s funding request.

At $56 million, the money not only covers the costs of the Barrie Police front line officers, radio refits, and the cost to move to a soon-to-be-built Emergency Service Campus, but also a portion of the Barrie courthouse costs. During its budget presentation, Police Chief Kimberley Greenwood noted a nearly million-dollar reduction in grant funding the province once provided to help run the city courthouse.

Getting Around

Overall, the city is saving some money on snow plow maintenance, having reduced the amount of money it puts towards fixing its fleet by $400,000. No decline in service is expected as a result of that cut, as the city recently scooped up some new road maintenance equipment and do not expect much in the way of maintenance costs.

The city approved funding towards projects like the restructuring of Dunlop Street from Eccles to Toronto Streets at a cost of $3.1 million, along with ongoing projects, including the installation of new plumbing beneath Mapleview Drive.

The cost of transit is expected to rise by approximately $200,000 as the city will move forward with free transit for senior citizens. The City will also commit an additional $100,000 in studying alternative fuel sources for the city’s buses, funds that would come from a gas tax reserve and not from the taxpayer’s pocket.