Barrie City Council looks to rewrite long-term financial plan

Report to council suggests growth over the next 20 years will cost $8 billion

It’s a rare Saturday meeting of Barrie City Council today, but an important one as it prepares to consider next year’s budget.

And it has more to do with the long-term than next year’s budget.

A few weeks ago, council received a long-range financial plan. A very expensive financial plan in terms of capital costs over the next 20 years as the city continues to grow. These are the costs for roads, pipes, bridges, parks, buildings and more.

Mayor Jeff Lehman says the cost was so high – $8 billion – it was going to mean raising taxes more than council was comfortable thinking about.

What’s affordable, what can wait

“So the meeting on Saturday is to try to reduce the capital plan a little bit, “Lehman told Barrie 360. “And where that will affect things is sort of in the five-to-ten year timeframe most of all, and to some extent, 2024/2025, because there are big and fairly expensive projects that are planned in that timeframe. It’s time for us to decide what we can afford and what we may have to wait a while longer for.”

Related: Starting point for Barrie councillors budget talks is a 3.73% tax increase

A huge chunk of the capital plan is roads, which Lehman says are expensive, but not excessive. It’s the bridges and interchanges that go along with them that become the most expensive, so there will be a long look at which roads get done.

Avoiding mistakes of the past

A huge consideration as growth comes to Barrie is ensuring the infrastructure is there when the growth arrives, not 20, 30 years behind. “That was the story in Barrie for so many years. The city grew, the roads were not built to support it, and we ended up with traffic problems in the south end. The degree to which you can solve those, and the timeliness with which you can solve it, is a balance against the cost. That’s one of the many issues we’ll probably be tackling on Saturday.”

And then, come Monday, the focus shifts to tackling next year’s budget. City staff have indicated a tax increase of 3.7 per cent will be needed to keep the city running. The starting point is often in that range, then council goes through the proposed budget line-by-line finding places to trim and looking for efficiencies.

It’s often successful.

Last year’s tax increase was less than one per cent, but that came as a result of services and programs that were shut down due to COVID. Those are back on the table for next year.

Inflation, at more than 4 per cent, is also a consideration. It drives up costs and adds to the budget pressures.

Lehman is confident council will be able to come in under the 3.7 per cent increase proposed in the preliminary budget. “We have come through COVID with some great management by our staff to keep our costs low. So we’ll see what we can do.”