City council approves 2017 budget

Bob Bruton

By Bob Bruton, Barrie Examiner

City council has approved the 2017 operating/capital budget.

City council has approved the 2017 operating/capital budget.

Cough it up.

The average Barrie homeowner will need to find another $119 this year.

When city council approved its 2017 operating/capital budget Monday night, it included a blended (municipal/education) 3.09% property tax increase.

This will hike taxes to $3,966 for the average city home assessed at $302,000. Last year property taxes on that home were $3,847.

“I’ve always said about the budget, that you have to be able to tell people what they’re getting for their money if you want to ask them for any more of it,” Mayor Jeff Lehman said.

“So we’ve kept our operating cost this year to around 1.7 or 1.8%, for the tax increase, the funds above that are going to capital.”

The tax increase includes a 1% infrastructure levy to replace and rehabilitate Barrie's roads, bridges, buildings, vehicles, machinery, equipment, parks, technology and other infrastructure, part of the capital budget. This year that 1% equals $2.5 million.

The city's capital budget is $111.1 million - $31.2 million in previously approved funding and $79.8 million in new funding requests.

“That work is everything from widening Mapleview Drive, where it is so badly needed, to building a new park, Loyalist Park, to doing some of the roads that have been overdue for years and years and years, like Morrow Road and others,” Lehman said.

“It’s really that capital plan where I would direct residents who are saying ‘what more am I getting for my money this year, mayor, if you’re asking for 3% more?’

“It’s always a challenge to go back to folks who may not have received that kind of level of wage increase or pension increase or otherwise.”

Roman Sharko of the Barrie Taxpayers Association, which has existed for just more than a year, expanded on that point.

“I imagine there probably are some people, who are on fixed incomes and don't have government-paid-for pensions, that could be on the borderline,” he said. “You've seen the commercials – 'do I buy groceries or do I turn on the lights'.

“The city spends a lot of time talking about affordable housing, yet if we pile things on, it's not only the taxes it's your water (rates) and your sewers, there could be some people that could be on the border about (retaining) home ownership.”

Lehman mentioned council is also trying to control utility bills at a time when hydro prices are rising.

The 2017 business and capital plan includes a 2% increase in water rates and a 3% hike in sewer rates.

For the average Barrie home which uses 180 cubic meters of water a year, the estimated 2017 cost is $324, a $6 increase from last year's price of $318.

The sewer rate hike means an estimated annual bill of $454 in 2017 for that average Barrie home, or a $13 increase from $441 last year.

Adding the tax hike to the water/sewer rate increase would mean an extra $138 for that average Barrie homeowner this year.

The city has financial policies which establish an affordability threshold for property taxes, and the combined water/sewer rate. On a typical household they are not to exceed 4% and 2.5% respectively, or 6.5% combined, of the typical household income.

This year, the municipal tax percent of the average household income is 3.75%, while the combined water/wastewater percentage of the average household income is 0.85%, for a combined 4.6% increase.

The 3.09% property tax increase includes the education portion, set by the province, which is not expected to increase. The municipal tax rate increase alone, without the education portion, is 3.59%.

When Barrie councillors began discussing the 2017 budget on Feb. 6, the blended (municipal/education) property tax increase was 3.76%. This was eventually reduced to 3.09%, but Sharko said he isn't necessarily impressed.

“When they start talking about budget, they come in with a high number and then, well, 'we're gonna cut this, we're gonna cut that, and gee, we've done well, be happy with what you've got',” he said.

“That sounds like going in to buy a car. They've got the list price and then after they give you the discount, you're supposed to be happy or feel that 'hey, I've got a fair price, I should sign on the dotted line'.

“Is our city being run efficiently? Are we getting value for our money?” Sharko asked.

Lehman said the city's priorities are in the right place.

“For those who will look at 3.1% as too high, I can at least say here’s where your money is going, and I believe it’s the appropriate place,” he said of the infrastructure spending.

“It's that old metaphor about if we do it now we’re going to be saving our kids a lot of costs, and our own taxpayers a lot of costs, down the line,” Lehman said. “When you look at that customer survey data …when you look at the priorities that people want us to spend the money on, our capital plan, I believe, responds to that.

“It’s road congestion, it’s the condition of roads, and it’s making sure we have services for people in all areas of the city.”

The city used a 'budget allocator tool' to ask Barrie residents how their tax dollars should be invested and to leave comments. For each service they were asked whether to increase spending by 5%, maintain the service level or cut spending by 5%.

It was launched last November and closed Jan. 24; there were 373 submissions and 179 comments – a 38% increase compared to 2016 submissions.

In six of seven categories, a majority of respondents wanted to maintain service levels.

This comprised curbside collection, waste disposal and diversion (60%), parks and forestry operations (56%), road operations (51%), transit (63%), recreation (56%) and fire and emergency services (69%).

Only in culture was there a different result – 47% to cut funding by 5%, 32% to maintain it and 20% to increase funding by 5%.

Barrie's tax-supported, base operating budget for city operations spends $223.2 million, and requires a tax levy of $139.8 million.

In a recorded vote, the budget passed by a 10-0 count. Coun. Bonnie Ainsworth did not attend Monday’s meeting.

Little changed in the budget Monday night.

Coun. Andrew Prince added $18,000, and took about $80,000 from the tax capital reserve, to pay for and maintain more speed bumps in Barrie’s 10 wards.

“I get many requests for speed bumps,” he said, noting many cannot be fulfilled.

Only Coun. Mike McCann took much issue with the measure.

“They do slow traffic down, but give residents a false sense of security,” he said. “I’d like to see different alternatives.”

Coun. Doug Shipley added $2,500 for cigarette receptacles in Downtown Barrie.

There is also $33,000 in the budget for a security guard at Barrie City Hall.

The security guard would work eight hours a day, on weekdays, 50 weeks a year. It would be a contract position, added to the city's security contract with a private firm.

This budget also hires 13.7 full-time equivalent city employees – in growth management, technology, environmental protection, financial management and communications.

The budget allows city staff to establish a legal contingency reserve, with a maximum permitted year-end balance of $500,000. The proposed budget includes $200,000 for this reserve, as the city is involved in a number of legal matters, defending the city's interests.

Not everything planned in the 2017 budget will get done, however.

The North Shore Trail new water access points – at Sam Cancilla Park, St. Vincent Square and Nelson Square - were removed from the 2017 capital budget and deferred. Instead, the project's design phase would be next year and the construction phase in 2019.

The city was unsuccessful in its Community Infrastructure Program Canada 150 grant application, so to go ahead this year would require $192,500 from the city's tax capital reserve fund.

Tax bill shares

Of the residential property tax bill, 55% funds city services, 14% funds education, as mandated by the province, and 31% funds the city’s service partners such as the Barrie police, Barrie Public Library and services delivered by the County of Simcoe such as land ambulance and social services. The budget will be funded by a combination of property taxes, user fees and other financing sources.

The 2017 business plan and budget is available at

Infrastructure details

2017 business plan and budget, infrastructure details

The City’s new capital requests, which are worth $106.4 million, focus on fixing more of Barrie’s existing infrastructure while also preparing for growth in the annexed lands.

Projects to improve road conditions will be completed, including the reconstruction of Morrow Road (Ardagh to Patterson) and Mapleview Drive East (Prince William Way to Sideroad 20) with Glen Echo Drive and College Crescent watermain and pavement replacement.

Key Highway 400 projects will move forward, including the design of the new Harvie Roade/Big Bay Point Road crossing, which will help alleviate traffic congestion in Barrie’s south-end.

Work will also begin in 2017 on key watermain and sewer projects to prepare for the development of the former Innisfil land. Funding for portions of these projects will be paid up-front by developers to cover the growth-related development costs.

Neighbourhood renewal projects will focus on reconstructing aging infrastructure in some of Barrie’s historic neighbourhoods, including Allandale, Queens Park and Wellington.

Work will vary in each neighbourhood, but will include road reconstruction, sidewalk replacement, street lighting upgrades, water main replacement, sanitary and storm sewer replacement and other upgrades. Bundling the reconstruction work together will improve service, minimize disruption to the community and reduce capital and operating costs in the long term.

The Centennial Park expansion will be complete in 2017. Improvements include expanding green recreational space, creating event and general recreation areas, realigning pathways, expanding parking and improving the lighting and bench locations.

Construction will also progress at Barrie’s Military Heritage Park. Located along the south shore of Barrie’s waterfront, the park will depict Barrie's military history and its relationship to CFB Base Borden through various visual and tactile components.

Also, plans will move forward to begin work on transforming Barrie’s downtown transit terminal into a permanent public market.

Source: City of Barrie





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