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Barrie city councillors unveil major portion of 2024 budget

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Barrie city councillors have ratified a major portion of the 2024 budget.

After three weeks of deliberations, including Wednesday's meeting, councillors managed to help the mayor keep a campaign promise he made to freeze spending on city operations.

The 2024 city operation and capital plan has been ratified by council with a zero per cent impact on the tax levy.

However water, sewage and infrastructure rates increased as city council tried to measure increases against savings in council chambers Wednesday.

"I think that this budget as we go through this process, sometimes we have to make difficult decisions that’s in the best interest of our residents," Mayor Alex Nuttall told CTV News. "Trying to increase service levels at the same time as people are trying to find a way to pay their mortgage, it’s not a good look and it’s not a good fit. We need to be able to reflect what’s happening on the ground on any given day and I think that this budget process is going to result in that."

City council froze spending on the city's operating budget for the second year.

The mayor says the thesis of this budget is investing in infrastructure while holding the line on city operations. Councillors have renamed a fund that prioritizes infrastructure spending. Previously known as the Dedicated Infrastructure Renewal Fund (DIRF), it is now the Infrastructure Investment Fund (IIF), which will see a 2 per cent impact on the tax levy as Nuttall says infrastructure investments have been neglected in recent years.

The funding replaces and renews roads, stormwater infrastructure and buildings.

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

As part of the 2023 budget, council approved an annual two per cent contribution for the city's IIF levy through to 2025. The IIF allows the staff to fix more infrastructure while significantly reducing debt and saving residents millions of dollars.

The 2024 cost translates to an additional $94.36 annually for an average Barrie home.

Council also approved a 3.97 per cent increase in water rates and a 4.94 per cent increase in wastewater rates. For a typical Barrie home consuming 180 cubic metres of water annually, the water bill will increase to $404, and the wastewater bill will increase to $587.

"We need to make sure that as a city we aren’t contributing to the affordability crisis in a negative way," said Nuttall. "We want to be a city that contributes finding a solution for individuals getting affordable housing, not making it worse."

As part of budget deliberations councillors zeroed in on service levels at existing parks after a lengthy debate over funding for some staffing positions. With many of their questions unanswered in regards to a drop in service levels at city parks despite no new lands added in recent years, councillors passed an amendment Wednesday to fund some positions for the time being while staff will complete a service review of existing requirements.

That review will be presented to council ahead of the 2025 budget deliberation process, when another debate about funding staffing will take place.

Councillors have also voted to spread out planned renovations at city hall through 2028. Funding for the project has been reduced from $1.847 million to $1 million for 2024 and each year through to 2028.

One of the biggest savings councillors managed to find in this year's budget was splitting the hiring of new firefighters over the coming years. The new planned Fire Station 6 on Mapleview Drive has been delayed, meaning councillors were able to relieve some pressure from the 2024 budget.

"We've allocated 20 new firefighters to fill that station," Nuttall said. "We're going to bring on eight of those in order to bring down some of the overtime costs but the reality is that we wouldn't be able to use all 20 so that reduction actually saved the city in excess of $1.5 million."

This move is expected to save well over a million dollars.

Examples of efficiencies and innovation in the city include:

  • The Electric Ice Resurfacing Units project replaced two of the city's natural gas ice resurfacing units with electric units, eliminating 38 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually with 80 per cent energy savings compared to natural gas units. Approximately 1,820 hours are saved per year with reduced maintenance, along with an annual maintenance cost avoidance of $12,000.
  • The Smartpoint Water Meter Warranty Tracking project allows staff to read water meters remotely, which improves tracking and increases the information available to better manage the assets without disturbing customers with requests to access meters for manual readings. This process provides clarity on how the city manages $7.2 million worth of assets and creates approximately $56,000 in cost avoidance per year,
  • The city's mobile app was redeveloped to include 125 additional services/information pages compared to the old app. Staff achieved $75,000 in cost avoidance per year by doing the work in-house.

The residential property tax bill is comprised of three parts: City services (constituting 57 per cent of the 2024 Budget), service partners, like the library, police and County of Simcoe (32 per cent) and education (11 per cent). Barrie City Council has direct control over the City services portion of the budget. City Council has limited influence over service partner spending requests, as these partners do not report directly to city council, but rather, council has representation on the governance bodies they report to. City Council has no influence over the education component of the budget as this is determined by the provincial government.

The service partner portion of the budget will be presented to council on January 17 and is expected to be approved at the end of January.

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