To the editor:
It’s budget season once again, this being the fourth and final budget of this term of city council. COVID aside there are major financial challenges the City of Thunder Bay is facing, namely increased demand on emergency services and stagnant economic growth.
The City’s finance department is projecting a miserly $300K of additional revenue to offset millions of dollars in additional expenses. This is not solely due to fast rising labour costs but also to volatile commodity prices and increased service demands.
This year the consumer price index (CPI) will hit both citizens’ and City books at more than 4 per cent. The basket of goods and services the city provides gets more expensive every year and this is a bumper year. We need innovation and intervention.
In 2019 City Council conducted a comprehensive third party review of administration looking for cost savings and areas for improvement. The Program and Services Review (PSR), which was endorsed and funded by the Province and delivered dozens of recommendations. Many, like the Digital Services Strategy will be reflected in the 2022 budget. In many cases, the PSR recommended the hiring of staff to enhance system efficiency, which will have cost savings implications downstream.
Increasing the tax burden to finance critical needs is a poor solution. Higher taxes make Thunder Bay less competitive and makes life harder for residents who are just as impacted by rising cost of living as the city is.
Another solution is to contain spending while increasing investments in infrastructure. While this has generally been the direction of your City Council it is becoming increasingly difficult to deliver low tax increases without compromising service levels or renewal in core assets like roads and facilities.
This is an important budget and not least because it’s the last budget of this council’s term. It’s important because each budget represents an opportunity for growth, sustainability, success.
There are many ways for residents to participate in the budget process. Citizen surveys as well as pre and post budget consultations provide a formal venue for people to voice their concerns and ideas.
This has been a difficult couple of years for families and businesses. A full recovery from the effects of the pandemic could take years. Budgets today need to factor in anticipated low growth while mitigating increasing demand for core services.
It’s a challenge. Together we can get there.
Vice Chair, Administrative Services