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Barrie councillors reduce burden on taxpayers as 2023 budget passes

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After more than a month of deliberations, Barrie councillors have officially ratified the 2023 budget to a 2.89 per cent property tax increase for residents. 

On Wednesday, councillors received final budget submissions from the City's largest service providers, including the Barrie Police Service, the Barrie Public Library and the County of Simcoe.

These entities had previously brought their budgets forward to council, but the vote on final approval was deferred to allow for officials to look for efficiencies in their budgets wherever possible. The city operating portion of the budget was previously approved with a 0 per cent increase.

"What we've seen from council is a very responsible approach in the sense that keeping city costs low has obviously had an effect on partners like the County who have reduced their budget," Mayor Alex Nuttall said. "The county and the budget are not coming with the same 0 per cent that the city has, but certainly leading from the front has set the tone."

On Wednesday, the county returned with approximately $700,000 in efficiencies in its budget. However, the funding for the police, first presented to the previous council ahead of last Fall's election, maintained its more than 7 per cent year over year increase, coming in at approximately $63-million.

Barrie's new police chief Rich Johnston has previously told CTV News that this budget, which councillors have very little say over, was primarily due to fixed costs, including mandated salary negotiations and ongoing inflationary pressures. It will also add five new frontline officers.

At Wednesday's council meeting talks centred on ensuring that funding provided to the police is closely accounted for in the coming years.

"There's a lot of work in Barrie happening in the area of evidence-based policing…and I think this is going really bode well for us in the future as we understand better how much policing, where do you police and what is the ultimate cost of policing and are we reducing harm in our community," councillor Jim Harris said during Wednesday's meeting.

While the county found efficiencies to reduce Barrie's portion of its 2023 budget, many councillors outlined concerns over the ongoing agreement between the City and the county, which provides services including paramedics, amongst many others.

Nuttall says councillors will be having more formal conversations surrounding the future of this agreement in the coming weeks, as it is set to expire this year.

"This is a negotiating year for the City of Barrie, the City of Orillia with the County of Simcoe in terms of our relationship with all the services that are provided, so those will be very deep, very important conversations, I always say the decisions that are made between budgets are the ones that affect the budgets," said Nuttall. "So we need to make sure that we are prudent, and we are frugal while at the same time focussed on service."

Some highlights in the budget include:

  • Additional recreational opportunities with the re-opening of the Allandale Recreation Centre, East Bayfield Community Centre and Peggy Hill Team Community Centre during summer weekends
  • Funding for additional snowplows and drivers
  • Increased cleaning for the washrooms at the waterfront parks on weekends and holidays
  • More traffic calming measures across the City to create safer roads
  • Resurfacing of approximately 12.4 kilometres of roads
  • Widening Essa Road from four lanes to six from Bryne Drive/Ardagh Road to Fairview Road

Budget deliberations also saw councillors cancel the previously planned Stormwater Climate Action Fund and introduce a transit hike of 25 cents a year ahead of schedule. However, seniors will be exempt from this rise.  

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