Thunder Bay City Budget 2019: It's Not Over Yet
#LSN_Econ TBay Council Budget deliberations
THUNDER BAY, ONTARIO - February 3, 2019 (LSN) hunder Bay City Council has made the effort to address the rising level of taxes and expenditures in its most recent budget deliberations on Wednesday evening this week which apparently lasted eight hours. The Administration was directed to find options for about $3 million in savings and they responded with a tiered list of three categories ranging from the least to the most intrusive that totaled $4.8 million. The reductions approved by Council from the first list alone amounted to almost $1.7 million and among the items that were eliminated (as listed in a CBC report) were:
- $150,000 for consultation and study for increased monitoring of area waterways and other open spaces
- $16,500 that will reduce family swim hours at Churchill Pool and hours of operation for the thunder slide at the Canada Games Complex
- $330,000 for the purchase of a new pumper truck for Thunder Bay Fire Rescue
- $20,700 for the city to hang Christmas lights in the downtown south core and Westfort and for the installation of hanging baskets in the two cores
- $45,000 in reductions to city budgets for WSIB and overtime.
As well, several vacant city positions were eliminated. However, some of the reductions in other services in the other more “intrusive” categories such as the elimination of weekend residential street snow or sidewalk plowing were not accepted.
When all was said and done, the increase in the total tax levy was brought down from initial 3.3 percent (that had actually jumped to 3.69 percent) – to 2.29 – that is from $195.9 million to $194.1 million – about $1.8 million dollars. That does not seem like a lot because there was also the addition of about $1 million in new spending for police services (the jump to 3.69 percent) as a result of the need to deal with the recommendations of the Ontario Independent Police Review Director on the relations between the police and Indigenous people. The budget still has to be ratified and that vote is scheduled for February 11th.
So, while an effort was made to restrain spending, when you look at the updated figures (See Figures 1 & 2) that include the original proposed increases and the new revised January 30th figures, there is still work to be done. The new revised budget figures still entail an increase in the total tax levy though the rate of increase is now much closer to the inflation rate and lower than the average increase of 3.9 percent over the period 2000 to 2018.
It remains that despite what seem like numerous reductions to many items, there is still more tax revenue needed. The City Budget is in some ways analogous to our hydro and water bills where even after people reduce their usage considerably, the total bill still goes up because of “fixed costs.” Indeed, what has been done in the most recent budget meeting can best be termed as dealing with the “low hanging fruit.” A more substantive effort requires a comprehensive expenditure and service review that needs to consider more substantial long-term changes.
Among these, there does need to be a review of services like snow removal or garbage collection or transit that examines how they can be done with less money while preserving a core service requirement. There needs to be a review of overall city staffing that can start with a hiring freeze and reduction of the total complement via attrition with restructuring of management of services and service delivery so that fewer people – including managers - are required.
As retirements occur, management departments could be amalgamated. A glance at the City organizational chart shows numerous divisions within each category and one wonders for example why under Corporate Services and Long-Term Care there are separate divisions for Financial Service, Revenue and Internal Audit given that they are all finance related. Why is the Waterfront Coordinator not under Tourism Thunder Bay? Why is there a Central Support division in Community Services and another in Infrastructure and Operations? There is both a Corporate Strategic Services block as well as a Corporate Projects division in Community Services. There may well be good reasons for some of these organizational patterns but they do need to be reviewed and examined for efficiencies.
In terms of services, weekly winter garbage collection – say from November to 1st to March 30th could probably be changed to every two weeks with a three can limit every collection period. This would reduce the core staff required with the uptake in summer filled by summer seasonal student workers when weekly two can limit service resumes. Snow removal on weekends in residential neighborhoods could be moved from the current 5cm threshold to 10 cm which could help reduce overtime costs.
In short, Council has made a start but there is still more to be done after this year’s budget is passed.
By: Livio Di Matteo
Photo CBC Thunder Bay