Thunder Bay

City of Thunder Bay proposes municipal tax levy increase of $6M

The City of Thunder Bay would need $6 million more than last year from property taxes to fund its proposed 2020 budget.

Four per cent increase to water and wastewater rates proposed in budget

Thunder Bay city manager Norm Gale, while joined by city treasurer Linda Evans, speaks during a media briefing for the city's proposed 2020 budget on Friday. (Matt Vis/CBC)

The City of Thunder Bay would need $6 million more than last year from property taxes to fund its proposed 2020 budget.

The city's draft spending plan, which was made publicly available on Friday, would require the city to bring in $200 million for its tax-supported operating and capital budgets.

The 2020 budget would result in a municipal tax levy hike of 3.17 per cent compared to 2019. The municipal tax levy increase is the amount of money that needs to be collected from property taxes and does not reflect the change to property tax rates.

"It is generally a status quo budget," Thunder Bay city manager Norm Gale said. "There is no significant or large changes to service levels or infrastructure spending in this budget."

The proposed budget comes as a comprehensive review of programs and services provided by the city remains ongoing.

Coun. Mark Bentz, who will chair the upcoming budget meetings, said he is quite comfortable with the status quo budget while that process unfolds.

"We didn't want two parallel tracks of investigating changes to our organization happening concurrently," Bentz said. "We've gotten the first pass through our (organizational) review and we see some things that are of interest to many of us for future work."

Nuts and bolts of budget

The major increases to the operating budget is a $1.9-million expansion to the Thunder Bay Police Service budget, which had been approved by the Thunder Bay Police Services Board.

The city is also facing budgetary pressures from decisions made at Queen's Park by the provincial government, mainly a reduction of $700,000 from the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund. As well, adjustments to the cost-sharing formula for public health is expected to result in an ask of $200,000 more from the Thunder Bay District Health Unit.

"Funding from Ontario is very important," Gale said. "It represents about 20 per cent of our overall budget. Any changes to that funding, say on the negative side, is impactful to the City of Thunder Bay. It causes us to look at other areas where we can make up for it."

The city's capital budget includes $14.9 million in municipal spending, which would be slightly more than the previous year.

The continued reconstruction of Balmoral Street, a project which has stalled since starting in 2016, is proposed to go ahead at an estimated cost of $4.8 million. The project would redo a section of the roadway between Hewitson Street and Alloy Drive, which includes the Harbour Expressway intersection.

"The intersection needs to be upgraded and repaired," Gale said. "It also helps make the city more walkable. There will be sidewalks. We'll get rid of the gutters that are on the side, and also improve sewer and water drainage which is important in that area, for businesses and for the community."

Other projects include work on the Marina Park pedestrian overpass and repaving a section of Dawson Road.

For the rate-supported budgets, the city is proposing a four per cent hike to both water and wastewater rates. The city estimates the annual total water and wastewater charges for the average household would amount to about $1,200.

Last year marked the first budget for this term of Thunder Bay city council, which had five rookie members elected in 2018.

Bentz said he is expecting the second budget review process to be smoother.

"I think the new members have a year under their belt, which is very important. It takes a while to find your feet," Bentz said. "I think they have experience with one budget, which will aid them with getting through this budget quicker and more effectively I think."

City council will meet throughout January, beginning with a long-term financial outlook meeting on Jan. 8, to review the proposed budget. Ratification of the budget is tentatively scheduled for early February.