Proposed changes went down in defeat while others were referred as city council debated this year's budget for the first time Tuesday night.
On the tax supported side Coun. Ken Boshcoff wanted to reduce the Clean, Green and Beautiful committee's budget after he and other councillors spent recent meetings debating the cost of some of the projects that come from it. Since 2007 council has put $300,000 into the committee, which picks projects along the city's image routes. That could include anything from public art to landscaping. Anything not spent is put in a reserve fund, which currently has around $480,000 although some of that money is already committed. Boshcoff proposed cutting the annual rate by $40,000.
"Clearly the existing fund can sustain it without even noticing," Boshcoff said.
But city manager of corporate communications and strategic initiatives Karen Lewis said the committee has already identified projects in the future that the money would be used for., which will be coming to council. The proposal was voted down.
Coun. Rebecca Johnson proposed turning down a $50,000 expansion to the city's Aboriginal Liason office to help fund the Urban Aboriginal Strategy. Boshcoff wondered if the two strategies weren't overlapping. The option to cut the funding was proposed in the nearly $1 million option to reduce the overall budget by city manager Tim Commisso.
"We seem to be expanding this to be beyond the municipal mandate," he said.
City clerk John Hannam, who's office oversees the liason office, said the money goes to help capacity building. It's critical to help initiatives through the strategy that help things like employment training. But councillors were more concerned about what the money would actually be used for. Reports when funding the strategy in the past haven't come forward.
"I don't think that's been done well for us," Johnson said.
Mayor Keith Hobbs agreed.
"I just don't think I got enough (information) tonight," he said.
A memo will be brought to council in a future budget meeting so they can deicide.
Council also needed more information before deciding to reduce some funding to cultural grants, also an option provided to council. Hobbs proposed dropping an eight per cent increase to three, with the exception of Shelter House. Other departments have tightened belts and maybe it was time for art initiatives to do the same.
"I think that's a fair assessment and a fair decision," he said.
But with places like the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium and the Boys and Girls Club involved in that funding, council agreed to delay that decision as well until more information came forward over the next few budget sessions.
"I don’t know who doesn’t get money or what amount of money,” Coun. Andrew Foulds said. "I'm not prepared :this is making nebulous cuts without even knowing the impacts of it."
On rate supported issues, Coun. Larry Hebert proposed dropping a six per cent water ate increase to three. Since 2010 the rates have gone up nearly 50 per cent as the city complies with revenue-neutral provincial legislation that states a city's water supply must be self-sustaining. Hebert and other councillors said the rate hikes have been a huge issue, drawing a lot of complaints from the public. The increases are putting a burden on the city's current base.
"We’re not being as intergenerational as we should be,” Hebert said.
Environment manager Kerri Marshall said that reducing the rate would mean the city would have to go into debt, raise taxes or put off capital projects in the water and wastewater system in order to make sure it complied with the province, which started the legislation after the Walkerton tragedy.
"At some point you need to make up that referred work,” she said.
Coun. Trevor Giertuga agreed.
"We have to fund it somewhere,” he said.
Council voted to keep the rate as it is.
The nearly 6.5 hour meeting also ventured into outside boards, hearing from the District of Thunder Bay Social Services Administration Board. CEO Bill Bradica said the city's share, which has dropped by nearly $11 million since 2008 as the province continues to upload services, would see a 2.2 per cent decrease in its levy this year.
Budget meetings continue Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.