‘They’re losing hope on being able to afford to live in Barrie’: Mayor

Alex Nuttall says his campaign promise to hold the line on city hall's operating budget is not "a huge nut to crack"

The money and numbers game has begun at city hall.

Barrie city council general committee got a glimpse of the draft 2023 budget and business plan this week, and it adds up to a 3.95 per cent property tax hike. For the average homeowner, it means shelling out an extra $182 on a home assessed at just over $365,000.

During the 2022 municipal election campaign, then-candidate Alex Nuttall championed holding the line on property taxes citing inflation as one reason not to ding Barrie residents with additional costs.

Now, as mayor, Nuttall says he isn’t wavering from that pledge.

“I don’t think it’s ever a bad thing to be aiming to get to a point where you are seeing maximum efficiency of tax dollars and aligning with the times we are living in,” he says. “You know, these are very difficult times for folks at home. Costs have gone up in the grocery store, the gas station, the cost of housing is wildly out of control and the cost of rent is wildly out of control.”

Nuttall said during the election campaign he would work with the city’s internal auditor to find efficiencies in the budget that don’t impact service.

“As I look at it right now, there is a 0.88 per cent increase in the city hall operating budget,” explains Nuttall. “So, there is not a huge nut to crack in terms of being able to achieve what our commitments were on the campaign trail.”

There are more than 60 services provided by the city such as garbage and recyclable collection, winter maintenance, public transit, recreational facilities and parks maintenance.

Of the $12 million in new spending in the operating budget, the city notes that just to maintain existing service levels the tab is $8.1 million.

Nuttall also said during the campaign he would keep the one per cent infrastructure levy to complete critical infrastructure work in Barrie, which is part of the 2023 budget.

“All things going the right way, we get to where I had committed and wanted to be, and go from there,” the mayor added.

The budget includes a 3.7 per cent hike in water rates and a five per cent increase in wastewater rates, which pushes the total increase close to $40 for the average household.

The line is being held on parking fees. 

The capital portion of the budget includes $360 million in spending for things such as the reconstruction of Duckworth Street between Bell Farm Road and St. Vincent Street, the construction of the Bryne Drive extension, a new fire hall, wastewater treatment facility upgrades and the municipal road resurfacing program.

There are storm clouds on the horizon.

At council general committee, chief financial officer Craig Millar listed operating costs for new infrastructure, rising inflation, uncertainty about Bill 23 and the loss of development charge revenue as red flags, as well as the potential for an economic downturn.

“The impacts of Bill 23 aren’t immediate,” Millar said. “For Barrie, based on what we’ve looked at, we expect to see about a 10 per cent reduction in development charges. If you blew that out over five years, that could be up to $90 million.”

The province is dangling a reduction in development charges to get builders to construct 1.5 million homes in 10 years.

The Ford government has identified 29 municipalities in which the bulk of the new housing will need to be built in order to reach that goal, and will require them to develop “pledges” of how they will meet their assigned targets.

Barrie will need 23,000 new homes.

While the mayor is confident a zero per cent tax increase is achievable from city hall’s operating budget, the ask of service partners could put a crimp in the overall rate property owners will be asked to pay in taxes.

As Barrie 360 reported in the fall, the police budget for 2023 is $62.3 million – an increase of 7.28 per cent from the previous year.

Barrie police and other service partners, such as the Barrie Public Library and the County of Simcoe —which provide paramedic and long-term care and social housing to the city – are scheduled to present their budgets to council on Feb. 1.

Nuttall reflects on his time door-knocking during the municipal election campaign as he takes stock of the operating and capital budget for this year.

“Too many times at the door I heard from people who said they’re losing hope on being able to afford to live in Barrie.”

City councillors could approve the budget at their Feb. 15 meeting.

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