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Budget efforts heating up at Barrie city hall

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The work is piling up for Barrie city councillors as efforts to pass the 2023 budget are ramping up.

At Wednesday's meeting, three of the city's largest service providers, the Barrie Police Service, the Barrie Public Library, and the County of Simcoe presented their budget requests for the upcoming year. This was the first time that these partners were given an opportunity to present their budgets separate from the capital and operating budgets, according to the mayor.

"I think what it does is it allows us to give the time and effort to really fully discuss what our service partner budgets are, what they're responsible for, it's key learning for new members of council," Mayor Alex Nuttall said to CTV News.

The Barrie Police Service's budget passed late last year at approximately $63-million, a 7.28 per cent increase year over year.

"Of that 7.28, 6.7 is unavoidable costs and those are contractually agreed upon wages, salaries, benefits, and there's increases to legislative requirements that we have to meet like supporting our first responders act," says Chief Rick Johnston.

The Barrie Police Service is planning on hiring 5 additional frontline officers, the most since 2020. Currently the ratio of officers per 100,000 population, otherwise known as the cop to pop ratio, is below both the provincial and federal averages. There are 156 officers per 100,000 in Barrie, with the provincial average at 176 and the national average at 183.

"Well I think one of the concerns, being a new mayor, just elected is we didn't have a full complement of police officers here in the City of Barrie," says Nuttall. "I guess my concerns would be that we always have a safe city, we have an affordable city and we have a clean city."

The Barrie Public Library came forward with what it called a modest increase, requesting a 2.43 per cent increase compared to 2022. Officials with the library say it is purchasing more digital materials than ever before, which costs more than physical options.

"So we're looking at inflation and seeing that our library materials, the books and other resources that we buy, are costing more than they did last year, so the library board is looking at taking some funds out of reserves to supplement for our collections."

The County of Simcoe was the third and final budget presentation for councillors on Wednesday night. Officials saying more staff members will be needed in long-term care homes in order to meet new requirements of personal care with residents. Its expected that average will rise to 3.5 hours across the four county-led long-term care homes.

"It's also a year where we get to look at the renegotiation of our relationship between the county and the City of Barrie and understand what cost elements are able to be supported and what ones we need to dig a little deeper on," Nuttall says.

Currently before deliberations have started, the budget is slated to see a 3.95 per cent property tax rise for Barrie residents.

"I think that the public service has done an incredible job preparing this," says Nuttall. "I think it's our job to make sure that it matches the priorities that we heard at doors around the City of Barrie as a council and also it leaves the City of Barrie going forward to make sure that we can continue delivering the services that people care about."

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