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Barrie 2024 budget approved with library funding under the microscope


After months of work by city staff and weeks of deliberations, city councillors approved the City's 2024 budget.

In December, councillors approved the budget for city operations with a 0 per cent increase in the tax rate. Over the past few weeks, councillors have focused on the rest of the budget, which pertains to funding for its service partners, including the Barrie Police Service, the County of Simcoe and the Barrie Public Library.

"From our partners we are expecting better in the future in terms of keeping tax increases to a minimal if not gone," Mayor Alex Nuttall said to CTV News ahead of the final budget approval.

On Wednesday, ahead of approval, councillors heard from three residents, two concerned over possible cuts to the library's materials and one concerned with increasing funding to local police.

Barrie Police Services

The Barrie Police Service came in with a $67.5 million budget, one of the most significant single components in this year's city budget. Earlier this week, it came to light that the Barrie Police Service had discovered more than $ 2 million in reserves collected over several years, which they returned to the city coffers.

"If you can imagine, after all of the revenues and all of the expenses, there's a little bit left over each year," Nuttall said. "Well, after a decade, it adds up to quite a lot of money! So the police services board and the chief of police have decided to return that to the city, which I think is a great step in terms of showing accountability for tax dollars."

Nuttall said those funds will be applied towards future capital budget projects.

"So it will reduce maybe the amount of debt we issue, or it will go towards a bridge or something we don't know we need to replace yet," Nuttall said. "It does reduce the amount of taxation on the City of Barrie, but it's done in a forward-looking way."

However, while the police account for the largest amount, the library's budget generated the most discussion in the council chambers in recent weeks.

Barrie Public Library

This year, the library included a funding request of $78,387 for a community navigator. With about 330 trespass notices issued last year, safety for both patrons and staff has become a significant concern at the downtown library branch. The community navigator would be someone with experience in the social services sector and would be able to help support many of the vulnerable people who come into the branch on a daily basis.

The budget also included a $100,000 reduction to its materials and programming budget, something they noted could lead to reduced availability and longer wait times.

During their presentation, library leadership was directed by councillors to consult with the County of Simcoe to find ways to fund the navigator position since the county is responsible for funding social services in Barrie.

However, the mayor said that he told library staff during a private meeting late last year to consult with the County for potential funding opportunities, saying he's frustrated it appeared to him that they only reached out to the County publicly pressured by council.

In recent weeks, the mayor and councillors have reviewed various financial statements from the library. According to documents viewed by the mayor, he said it appeared as though it had approximately $2.7 million in reserves with hundreds of thousands of dollars in an accumulated surplus.

"In one way or another, the money was already sitting in the bank account, but we're being told we don't have any money and we're going to cut materials and we're going to cut services," Mayor Nuttall said during Wednesday's Finance and Responsible Governance Committee meeting.

The chair of the library board, Austin Mitchell, has confirmed to CTV News that staff did in fact reach out to the County a few times last year but funding avenues were presented once they asked once directed by council this month.

Despite the growing questions around the library's finances, Ward 9 Councillor Sergio Morales, Barrie's longest-serving city councillor, expressed his support for library leadership.

"I have huge respect for the chair of the library board, and that's Austin Mitchell," Morales said to his fellow councillors. "Mr. Mitchell, he's a CPA by profession, he climbed the ranks if you will, there's no official ranks but he climbed the ranks and earned the respect of his board members very quickly when he was appointed to the board."

Sitting during the Finance and Responsible Governance Committee, councillors voted to have city staff conduct a value-for-money audit of the library's finances, providing a clearer picture ahead of the work of the 2025 budget.

"It's not the first year that there's been some conversation around the Barrie Public Library's budget," said Councillor Gary Harvey, who brought the motion forward.

Highlights in the budget include:

  • New road construction includes Bryne Drive South (Harvie to North of Caplan), Duckworth Street (Bell Farm to St. Vincent), and Bayview Drive New Transmission Watermain and Road expansion (Little Avenue to Big Bay Point Road)
  • Construction of the new Allandale and Downtown Transit Mobility Hubs
  • Construction of Fire Station 6
  • Hewitt's Community Centre New Building Development – property acquisition
  • Resources to transition the city of Barrie's blue box collection to the producers and implement the city's new waste collection contract (effective May 2024)
  • Increased pruning, fertilizing, and watering for the city's 35,000-plus trees
  • Funding for a new splash pad at Heritage Park
  • Paving of Painswick Park parking lot Top Stories

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