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Letter to the Editor: A perspective on city finances and the 2018 budget

On Wednesday January 3, the 2018 budget process was launched and should be concluded by January 31, with ratification by Council on Monday February 5, 2018, almost a full month ahead of last year.
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Letters to the editor

To the editor:

On Wednesday January 3, the 2018 budget process was launched and should be concluded by January 31, with ratification by Council on Monday, February 5, 2018, almost a full month ahead of last year. The intent is to eventually have the budget finalized by year-end to take full advantage of our short construction season.

This streamlining of the budget process and other initiatives like a 3-year budget plan, were put in place to help offset the $23 million reduction in tax revenues over the last five years due to assessment appeals in the industrial and commercial sectors that arose as a result of the economic recession. City staff worked diligently in finding about $12 million in savings internally through operational efficiencies and continuous improvement initiatives. These efforts and some new growth have enabled the city to maintain an average annual property tax increase of 2.60  per cent over the last 10 years.

These efforts are ongoing as evidenced by the projected positive 2017 year-end variance that will help replenish some reserve accounts like legal, policing, insurance and others that were drawn down over the last few years.

We are mindful of the changing needs in our community for emerging services and therefore this budget includes an additional ambulance and eight paramedics. There is also additional funding for community youth, public safety programs and road maintenance with capital investment in infrastructure being kept at the same levels as 2017.

In conclusion, while overall the city has been able to confront some major headwinds and progress is being made on many fronts to ensure a sustainable future for our citizens, I believe that we still have some work to do in regards to the cumulative increase in water and property tax rates above the level of inflation which is being felt more and more across all segments of our population, and especially those on fixed income.

While an effort on my part during last year’s budget to use $1 million in reserve funds to lower the tax increase was defeated on a 6-6 tie vote, there is an opportunity this year to use half of the projected 2017 year-end positive variance of around $2.8 million to replenish our reserves and use the other half to provide some tax relief to our citizens. To that end, I plan on bringing a resolution forward at the appropriate time during this budget review and hopefully get the support needed.

Frank Pullia,
Councillor at Large for the City of Thunder Bay
fpullia@thunderbay.ca or at 767-6579