Thunder Bay homeowners can expect a tax increase of less than two per cent this year, now that city council has voted to pass the 2014 budget.

Councillors emerged from six hours of deliberations at a meeting Tuesday night with a budget that promises to maintain services and invest more money in infrastructure — and it will cost taxpayers slightly less than city staff had originally proposed.

Budget chair and city councillor Mark Bentz said the effect on individual homeowners depends on their property assessments.

Mark Bentz

Thunder Bay Councillor Mark Bentz. (ThunderBay.ca)

"If your property did not increase in assessment more than the average properties out there, and things stayed kind of status quo for you, you're looking at a 1.7 per cent increase in your property tax bill,” he said.

Linda Rydholm and Rebecca Johnson were the only two councillors who voted against the budget, saying the tax burden is still too much.

Avoids cuts to services

Johnson pushed for cuts in many areas, including police, fire, and EMS.

"I think, overall, that the whole emergency services need to be looked at seriously,” she said. “We're looking at a $75 million area.”

But all three emergency services say the bulk of their costs are their front-line staff. 

Police Chief JP Levesque defended his $38 million budget request.     

"It would be difficult to get down any further, without cuts in services," said Levesque.

After Tuesday night's vote, police, fire and EMS will likely get the money they've asked for. But the budget won't be ratified until March 3, and councillors can still ask for amendments.

Taxpayers can also have their say at a public consultation Wednesday night, at 6:30 p.m. at city hall.

When council went into the budget meeting Tuesday night, the overall tax increase was going to be 2.1 per cent, but councillors got that down to 1.69 per cent by the end of the meeting.

One of the last-minute cost savings was proposed by Bentz. The city will eliminate three full-time positions, but will not lay anyone off. Those three positions will either be new positions that aren't filled yet, or existing positions that are vacated through attrition. City staff members estimated the move would save about $150,000.