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Council chambers virtually empty for pre-budget deputations

Only one organization attended pre-budget deputations before city council on Tuesday. Council had hoped to engage the public by beginning public input into the 2017 budget season four months earlier than it traditionally does.
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THUNDER BAY -- For all the issues competing for tight space in the 2017 municipal budget, only one organization showed up to make a pre-budget deputation before city council on Tuesday. 

The Friends of the Conservatory made a 10-minute deputation requesting consideration among the city's Canada 150 funding priorities. For 2017, it asked council to fund the building's growing greenhouse replacement and renovations needed to bring its east and west houses up to code.    

That was it. 

Budget chairman and Coun. Frank Pullia conceded council's decision to move pre-budget deputations from February 2017 to October 2016 may not have succeeded. 

"I don't recall only one presentation at a pre-budget deputation," Pullia said after the unexpectedly short meeting. 

"Maybe this is the consequence of starting so early because people don't feel engaged in the budget. They know we're working on it. Starting in February, I expect a few more people to come forward." 

In early October, city council and its administration agreed to a 4.4 per cent tax levy increase as a starting point for the 2017 municipal budget. Pullia said his constituents have since advised him they would accept a levy increase in line with inflation.

While the Consumer Price Index that defines inflation has increased 1.3 per cent over the past year, Pullia said the rate of municipal inflation is closer to three per cent. He also pointed to comments Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce president Charla Robinson made in February regarding the local business community's willingness to accept a 2.5 per cent levy increase for the 2016 budget.

"We'll have to bring it somewhere in between," he said. 

Pullia remains optimistic over early public engagement in the pre-budget process. He will lead a town hall to discuss next year's budget at the Italian Cultural Centre on Nov. 15. 

"We know there's a lot of skepticism in the community about taxes and how we run the business of the city," he said. 

"We've given them an option to go to an open mike and ask any question they may have and then we'll answer the best  way we can. We don't always agree on everything. We don't agree with everything around this table. It doesn't necessarily mean we're going to agree with the direction people want us to take.

"We're elected to make decisions. We will agree to engage people, seek their feedback and work together to make Thunder Bay better."