Thunder Bay budget feedback gets loud
It was one of the wildest nights in years at Thunder Bay city hall on Tuesday night
With a higher-than-expected tax increase and cuts to city services on the horizon, Thunder Bay city council saw frustrations mount at a budget consultation meeting last night.
Budget chair Frank Pullia reminded councillors to stay in line, after a string of questions to the Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber told council to hire a consultant for a core services review, to cut costs — a project city manager Tim Commisso said would cost about $250,000
That concept upset virtually all of council — including Coun. Brian McKinnon.
"Were you aware that ... in the last 2.5 years, that Mr. Commisso has already done a core service review?"
The meeting saw plenty of shouting, talking over one another and demands being made.
Coun. Iain Angus said the chamber should look at its own report from 1998 that highlights what happens when the city cuts jobs.
"Because it showed that the 1,100 jobs that we lost actually brought about the closure of a number of small businesses in this community," he said.
Then, when a group of campers from Sandy Beach brought up the matter of their leases not being renewed, city clerk John Hannam cut off the presenters.
"If you have nothing to direct [toward the budget issues], I would ask you to retire. We're not going to debate the discussions over how the Sandy Beach properties are being managed."
Plenty of noise ensued when the group exited council chambers.
While on his way out, one resident yelled: "Sorry to leave, boys. Found a way to save money instead of spend it."
In a news release issued Wednesday afternoon, the Sandy Beach Leaseholders Association said buying out their properties and paying for demolition could cost the city $2.5M. The association said the city will also lose over $1M in revenue through future lease payments and property taxes over 13 years.
"They just don't want the citizens of Thunder Bay to know exactly what it's going to cost to buy out these camps," spokesperson Elsie Hutsel told CBC in an interview. "We want people to know that they have rights and they have a voice and if they want that voice heard they have a right to express to council that they don't want their tax dollars used to buy out these camps."
City Manager Tim Commisso told CBC in an email that "the tenants position that somehow this will affect City property taxes is...not accurate nor is the buyout figure" the group noted in its news release.
Commisso said the city maintains reserve funds for property transactions, and the lease buyout costs as well as any lease payments to the city are accounted for separately from the operating budget.
The email added that the reasons for the city's decision to renew the leases for another two years and offer buyout to remaining tenants was "fully communicated" in late November, and they remain unchanged.
Council will start to look over the new budget, line-by-line, tonight.