Barrie City Hall Tentatively Approves Tax Increase In The Face of Provincial Downloading

The Average Barrie Home's Tax Bill Is Expected to Increase By About $126

The City of Barrie has given the tentative nod to a 3.05% increase to its operating and capital budget, balancing out to an about a $126 increase on the average Barrie home’s annual property tax bill. It 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 nearly $362 million operating budget and a $198 million capital budget. Essentially, the former covers the costs of running the city, the latter in helping build it. Our property taxes pay for the operating budget.

Provincial Downloading

“There’s only one taxpayer.” was a refrain repeated several times over the course of the evening’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.” The city’s budget executive summary indicates, as a result of budget cuts on the provincial level, $1.6 million has been added to the city’s bottom line. That means for an extra 0.65% 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 newly-inked community improvement plan (CIP) 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 County provides social housing within the City of Barrie.

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. “There’s only one taxpayer,” repeated Councillor Mike McCann, who proposed the reduction to the library’s request.

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 $100,000, 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 a week 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 Barrie’s courthouse costs. During her 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

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 also elected to commit $100,000 to 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. The study was scheduled for 2022 until Councillor Keenan Aylwin moved to have the start date bumped up.

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

Overall, the city is saving some money on its fleet maintenance, having reduced funds put towards fixing its vehicles, such as snow plows, by $400,000. No decline in service is expected as a result of that cut, as the city is scooping up some new road maintenance equipment and does not anticipate much in the way of maintenance costs. However, “there are always risks,” as noted by Roads, Parks, and Fleet Department head Dave Friary.

The final tally isn’t written in stone yet; Monday night’s unanimous vote on the budget is expected to be ratified at a December 9th meeting of council.