‘Under so much fiscal pressure’: Barrie councillors near approval of 3.05 per cent property tax bump

NEWS 11:30 PM by Chris Simon  Barrie Advance

The average home assessed at $351,368 will pay an additional $126 in property taxes next year

And up it goes. Barrie’s general committee passed a 3.05 per cent property tax increase –– or $126 for an average home assessed at $351,368 –– as part of draft 2020 budget deliberations Dec. 2. The nearly $362-million operating and more than $200-million capital budget documents need to be ratified Dec. 9.

“We need to have a better source of income,” Coun. Clare Riepma said. “The property tax base is just not adequate…. It’s not sustainable.”

So how does your tax bill break down?  The average home will pay $4,268 in property taxes next year. That amount is split between the city (56 per cent), service partners such as the County of Simcoe, police, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit and conservation authorities (31 per cent), and school boards (13 per cent).

Policing eats up the largest portion of your bill at $836 per year, followed by infrastructure renewal ($562), education ($541), Barrie Fire and Emergency Service ($405), city governance ($294), the county ($280), road and traffic operations ($261), transit ($205), debt charges ($189), libraries ($126) and recreation ($124).

There are several challenges in maintaining existing services and meeting the status quo within the budget. Each year, staffing, equipment repairs, fuel, winter control and contracted service costs increase. Also, several funding changes announced by the Ontario government will have a local effect, the city’s budget document says.

“Every day, residents and businesses use city services and see their tax dollars at work,” the budget reads. “In a typical day, most residents will use clean water from their taps; use wastewater services by flushing toilets or draining showers; place garbage and recycling in containers for future pickup; walk on a sidewalk; drive in a car or ride a city bus on a road which has stoplights, signage and street lighting.”

Mayor Jeff Lehman said he’s “really upset” over provincial downloading, specifically as it relates to county-run social services, city policing and the health unit.

“We’re under so much fiscal pressure,” he said. “Cuts have real impact. This is the inevitable struggle that (results) from downloading. The province has put us in this position. It makes us be the bad guys. The residents of Barrie have to pick up the cost. Where do we push back? I am not willing to get this dumped on us.”

Councillors also plan to allocate $1 million toward the city’s community improvement plan, to encourage the development of affordable-housing units.

“I’m really concerned we aren’t creating the units we so desperately need,” Coun. Keenan Aylwin said. “It’s unacceptable people are living on the street in this city.”

The capital budget also includes funding for projects such as the Harvie Road bridge at Highway 400, right-of-way expansion and a sanitary sewer installation for McKay Road, a new trunk watermain on Mapleview Drive East, wastewater treatment facility upgrades, the renovation of a building at 79 Bell Farm Rd. into an indoor firearms range for police, and Dunlop Street corridor improvements.

Water rates would also climb by 3.47 per cent ($11.50 for the average home), while wastewater rates could jump by 3.83 per cent ($22.96) under the proposal. Parking rates would stay steady.

The city’s debt hit $322 million this year. It won’t dip below $300 million during the next five years. In 2020, the city will pay more than $33 million toward debt servicing.

“We’re all in a crunch here,” Coun. Mike McCann said. “We all need to tighten our socks. This is a year where we need to be fiscally responsible.”

Operating budgets typically include the ongoing costs incurred by a municipality, such as salaries and maintenance. A capital budget usually consists of one-time projects such as road reconstruction, infrastructure upgrades and fleet purchases.

For more information, email budget.questions@barrie.ca or visit barrie.ca.