Thunder Bay·Audio

Thunder Bay council pares budget to get to 4% tax increase

City councillors in Thunder Bay sharpened their pencils Wednesday night and started picking apart the 2015 budget.
Thunder Bay city council tentatively passed the 2015 budget Wednesday night. Taxpayers face a property tax levy increase of just under 4 per cent. (file photo)
Just over a week ago, city administration announced that a five-plus percent tax hike could be in store for property owners in Thunder Bay. Wednesday night, city councillors sharpened their pencils and tried to find savings in the proposed budget. The ev
City councillors in Thunder Bay sharpened their pencils Wednesday night and started picking apart the 2015 budget.

Facing a proposed 6.3 per cent tax increase, council chose to make some big changes to the budget right off the top.

One was to accept two packages of cuts, created by the city manager.

They include not hiring another city solicitor, and deferring a lot of capital work.

Mayor Keith Hobbs said he wanted to make a few changes, to keep a few things in the budget.

"When I looked over these two packages, actually three packages, I can live with everything, but I can't live with the youth services being cut,” he said.
Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs. (Canadian Press)

“Another thing I found unacceptable to cut from the budget is the SOS program.”

Council ended up supporting the mayor's request and kept the youth services allocation and $65,000 for Shelter House's SOS outreach program.

Another budget-saving measure that got a lot of talk was deferring the purchase of a new pumper fire truck, which could save $690,000.

Councillor Larry Hebert wanted to take that idea one step further.

"Just think that 2015 never happened in terms of vehicle replacement. I know there's a cycle, I know there's a rationale to it, but surely our vehicles cannot be in bad enough shape that we cannot keep them on the road for another year."

Cut council salaries?

Hobbs was also asked about cutting the mayor and council's salaries, following in the footsteps of Alberta Premier Jim Prentice.

Hobbs said he's one of the lowest paid mayors in the province for a city the size of Thunder Bay.

"I'm certainly not taking a budget cut. I'd quit before I did that."

Coun. Iain Angus raised the idea of hiring one more bylaw officer to deal with noise issues, wandering pets, and so on.

The bylaw department said it would cost about $80,000 annually to do so, but said they're not convinced it would help alleviate complaints. Angus did not bring an amendment forward, but warned council that he still reserves the right to do so at any time

Angus also wanted to know more about what the province could pay the city when the new courthouse comes onto the tax rolls.

He noted that what the province pays in lieu of taxes to the city hasn't changed for years.

"So for 20-plus years, the province has been shortchanging us,” he said.

“I assume we have included this in our regular deputations from the government of Ontario."

Administration said it will not estimate the exact impact of the courthouse on Thunder Bay's tax roll. They said they regularly bring up the issue to the province, but it has “fallen on deaf ears.”

As of now, the proposed tax increase for Thunder Bay sits around four per cent.

Hobbs said that's still too high. Council will continue its budget talks next week.