THUNDER BAY – City council is looking for ways to reduce spending before approving a municipal budget for 2020. On Tuesday night, council narrowly passed a motion from Coun. Trevor Giertuga directing city administration to report back with a list of options designed to trim 1% off the proposed 2.32% increase to the municipal tax levy.
If approved, the proposal would add see cuts of about $2 million to the city’s operating budget. The proposal came at the first of at least four marathon council sessions in coming weeks to reviewing the coming year’s budget. Final ratification is set for Feb. 10, after a period for public comment.
Several councillors raised concerns about what the city would have to cut to meet Giertuga’s 1% benchmark. Shelby Ch’ng said the idea made for a good sound byte, but bad policy. She suggested council wait for the results of an independent review of city services, currently being performed by Grant Thornton LLP, before considering such major changes.
For the average taxpayer, Ch’ng argued, the proposed reduction would add up to only $35 per year – but could be crippling for the city’s ability to deliver the services people expect.
Coun. Brian McKinnon was also skeptical. He said council had asked administration for a similar list of options to reduce spending two years ago, and only implemented about a third of them. Feedback from the city’s citizen satisfaction surveys show most people would rather see slight increases to taxes than cutbacks in services, he said.
“We’re not going to get very far into that list before we’re going to pull back,” agreed Coun. Brian Hamilton, saying such a large reduction in spending would necessarily touch essential services. He said he would prefer to look at cuts to the city’s capital budget.
Mayor Bill Mauro supported the motion. He called the proposed budget presented by administration “a good start,” but said its before-growth increase of $6 million to the tax levy is unsustainable. He believes tough decisions like those administration is likely to present to council when it reports back must be reckoned with sooner or later.
“This is just doing what’s going to have to be done at some point,” he said.
Mauro joined councillors Giertuga, You, Ruberto, Fraser, Aiello, and Bentz in voting for the motion. Councillors McKinnon, Ch’ng, Foulds, Hamilton, and Oliver voted against.
With the motion passed, council is expected to receive a report from administration on Jan 29 outlining options for the 1% cut. The public can learn more about the budget process at the city’s website.