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Barrie councillors aiming to freeze increases to city operations as budget deliberations begin

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City councillors in Barrie have started crafting next year's budget to ensure there's no increase in the cost of city operations on taxpayers.

For the first time, deliberations on this year's draft $325.5-million 2024 budget started during the Finance and Responsible Governance Committee. City staff and councillors have developed a new schedule for what the mayor calls a 'transition' year due to the passage of the Strong Mayor powers earlier this year.

"We've created a bridge year, a transition year, from the traditional route where it was 100 per cent staff led and then provided to council to meeting the timelines of the strong mayor powers but it still being staff led and presented to council," Nuttall said to CTV News.

Eventually, the Strong Mayors Act will place much of the crafting of the first draft of the budget in the mayor's office. However, since the act wasn't introduced to Barrie until after staff had already started working on the 2024 budget, a new passage schedule has been submitted.

The first draft, as printed, would see a 1.06 per cent tax increase for city operations. However, on Wednesday, councillors began deliberations to shave off millions from those costs for the mayor to keep his campaign promise of freezing that portion of the budget.

"My belief is that we will get towards that 0 per cent city operations budget so that we will freeze taxes when it comes to the city operations, and this is in the backdrop of some places that are seeing 10 per cent increases, 5 per cent increases to their operations alone so I think it's taking a lot of work from our public servants, our staff, to get us into a position to be able to do that," Nuttall said.

To accomplish that, initial discussions on Wednesday focused on accepting staff recommendations to reduce some funding for things like legal purposes and to spread out the hiring of firefighters for a new fire hall over multiple years.

Council is also looking to invest heavily in the City's long-term capital plan, with new spending requests of $252.8 million. That is in addition to carry forwards of $169 million and $269 million in previously approved funding.

"Overall, it's preparing for a city that's seen humongous growth, and it's also positioning the city to be environmentally friendly, more work done in our sewage treatment facility, the wastewater plant, alongside all of the sewer work across the city that is being done," said Nuttall. "I think overall we see a sound plan that's going to protect Lake Simcoe and at the same time create jobs and create economic output for the community."

A new addition to the capital plan is funding for the recently approved 'Waterfront 1000 Tree Planting Program,' which will see 100 trees planted annually over the next ten years.

Budget deliberations will continue over the next two weeks. They could get final approval by city council on Dec. 6. Councillors will vote on budgets for service partners, including the Barrie Police Service and Barrie Fire and Emergency Services, in January.

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