To the editor:
In response to the editorial of the Feb. 8, 2018 in the Thunder Bay Source.
Thank you for providing an opportunity to respond to your editorial of Feb. 8, 2018 “Levy hike rings false” where you correctly identified administration recommendation on the use of reserves but did not provide any of the contexts on which the final decision was made.
The background information that puts the whole question in perspective was provided and kindly published on your editorial page of the Feb. 1, 2018 Thunder Bay Source “Budget Streamlined”. In that article, I provided the background and the reasons why the city started a three-year budget process along with ongoing operational reviews and efficiencies that generated savings and budget surpluses of $2.4 and $2.8 million for two years in a row.
Contrary to your assertion that the reduction in the tax levy through the use of surpluses was motivated by an election year, a similar motion in the 2017 budget (a non-election year), was lost on a tie vote. These surpluses were accomplished while we replenished the reserves that you correctly identified as having been depleted between 2012-2014 due to extreme weather and other uncontrollable events like insurance and policing. In fact, the rate stabilization fund was down to $2.5 million just a few years ago and it was sitting at over $10.5 million at the beginning of the 2018 budget process.
Another option that was discussed at length during a healthy debate on the last budget meeting of January 31, 2018 was the need to invest some of the surplus to enhance our roads budget instead of reducing taxes. The case being made and which the majority of Council did not support, was that we are falling behind in our investment in roads, totally neglecting to mention the substantial investment made over the last few years in infrastructure like the storm sewers in Northwood that were done one year ahead of schedule, and especially in preventive road maintenance.
For example, more training and blades for ice conditions like those experienced in the winter of 2016 and over $400,000 extra per year in fixing utility cuts and cracks in the roads on a permanent basis. There are many more but the most obvious one is the recent acquisition of a pothole machine that is already allowing the city’s to fix potholes even in the winter which will make our roads last longer while enhancing the safety of our workers who previously needed a diesel truck behind a 3-person manual operation and cold mix that would not last.
With industry best practices in life-cycle road maintenance showing that $1 invested in maintenance will save $5 in rehabilitation and $10 in reconstruction, such investments are already bearing fruits with a 2017 report ranking 67% of our roads in the good or very good category, while the provincial average is at 50%.
Since the majority of the 2017 surplus of $2.8 million is actually going into reserves, I can only assume that if Council and Administration had not been diligent enough to find such savings, and increased taxes accordingly, then we would not be seeing such editorials or arguments being made? This was a fair and equitable budget with additions in services where needed the most while maintaining an average tax increase of around 2.5% for the last 10 years. As for projected tax increases next year, it is still early in the year and we will stay the course in finding additional savings, with the expectation that whoever is on Council next year, will continue to provide the citizens of Thunder Bay the same type of fiscal responsibility.
Councillor at Large for the City of Thunder Bay