Jamie Smith, tbnewswatch.com
Mayor Keith Hobbs speaks during budget meetings Wednesday night.
The mayor and a councillor high-fived after dropping the city's proposed budget by $80,000.
City budget deliberations continued Wednesday night when an $80,000 development services proposal to hire a consultant caught the eye of councillors. The consultant would study whether the city should look into development charges. While Thunder Bay has never had them, which several councillors said was a point of pride, development charges can generate millions of dollars in revenues for some cities development services manager Mark Smith said.
Some charge thousands of dollars per lot for development, which can be used for specific services or are only charged in certain areas. But city administration doesn't have the expertise to study the situation.
"We need to hire a consultant to help us with this," Smith said.
Coun. Aldo Ruberto said seeing what other municipalities do, development charges could help pay for things like firehalls, libraries or enhance areas of the city.
"Right now we don’t ask a lot of our developers quite frankly compared to other cities,” he said.
Coun. Andrew Foulds and Coun. Paul Pugh said they didn't know one way or the other if the charge was a good idea, which is why they supported the study.
"I’m not an expert on it and because I'm not, I wouldn’t mind hearing from an expert on it,” Pugh said.
But other councillors disagreed or were caught off guard wondering whether they even agreed philosophically that the city should have development charges. Coun. Rebecca Johnson asked whether city staff could call other cities or network at conferences to look into the idea.
Coun. Trevor Giertuga said if development charges were implemented, that money would just hit consumers. The city might as well just raise the cost of building permits by $10,000 instead.
"You're just throwing more money on the person building the house," he said.
Smith said the direction to look into development charges was approved in the city's strategic plan.
"To have an informed philosophical discussion we need to have a consultant,” Smith said.
The $80,000 was from a previous budget. Coun. Joe Virdiramo said he was frustrated that council was even discussing the money since it didn't impact the budget anyway.
"What's the point?" he asked.
Coun. Brian Mckinnon proposed an amendment, which passed, that removed the study. Coun. Trevor Giertuga then proposed an amendment that would take the $80,000 and put it towards reducing the overall 2014 budget, which passed and prompted the high-five between McKinnon and mayor Keith Hobbs.
Several other cuts were proposed but ultimately defeated.
Johnson wanted to take more than $40,000 out of the parks department for help with urban forestry an added security for Chippewa Park.
Parks manager Paul Fayrick said that $20,800 was needed for someone to answer between 8,000 and 9,000 calls urban forestry has been getting about nuisance trees, which is tying up staff's ability to actually go out and do the work that's needed.
"It’s a ridiculous amount of answering calls related to tree issues,” he said.
Around $20,600 would go to security at Chippewa Park when staff aren't there. Coun. Linda Rydholm said that the park and its campground should be able to pay for that.
"I don’t think that this is something should be subsidized," she said. "I would hope next year we wouldn't see that amount."
Councillors voted to keep that money in the budget but the issue of staffing, which the city will see 20 new full-time equivalent positions this year, caught the attention of Coun. Mark Bentz. He said he was pleased to see that eight of those positions are fully funded from elsewhere but the issue needs to be addressed when budget meetings continue next week.
"We do have an issues where there are staffing expansions here,” he said.”There's always going to be a great reason why we need to hire new people.”