THUNDER BAY – Two veteran city councillors are ready to start the upcoming month-long process to comb through the city’s proposed budget.
The new term of Thunder Bay city council will begin their first budget review on Tuesday night when they meet to go over the city’s long-term financial overview.
The draft budget, which will serve as the starting point for the review, calls for a municipal tax levy increase of $6.2 million over 2018, which amounts to a gross increase of 3.25 per cent.
After factoring in growth, the levy increase is calculated to amount to 2.95 per cent for existing taxpayers.
The preliminary $195.9 million levy is the total amount of money the city would need to collect from the municipal tax base. The levy increase does not reflect the rate of property tax increases.
Heading into the review process, the council includes six returning members, along with five brand-new councillors that will be working on their first budget and two others that are back with previous experience.
Longtime Current River ward Coun. Andrew Foulds, who has served on council since 2006, is no stranger to the budget review process.
“I think it’s going to be very interesting,” Foulds said. “I think with a large number of new councillors there will be lots of questions and I think that’s totally fair. This is the most important thing we do. It sets the strategic direction for the year.”
Coun. Shelby Ch’ng, who was the newcomer to council four years ago, remembers the challenges of a new councillor working on their first budget.
“Before you get on, you don’t know what it’s going to be like on the inside,” Ch’ng said. “You can read every book, you can talk to any person but once you’re there around the table, you have a much better appreciation for your limitations as a councillor.”
For Ch’ng, she focuses more on whether the budget meets service demands rather than just on the number of the levy increase.
“As much as it’s important to keep the levy at a rate that’s acceptable to people, what I’m looking for is to provide service to people and what does that service look like,” Ch’ng said. “People want service and they want the best bang for their buck.
The budget also outlines the city’s priority capital infrastructure projects for the coming year. Highlighting the capital agenda is a nearly $7 million allocation to fix the Boulevard Lake Dam and $5 million to continue pursuing an indoor turf facility.
It also addresses basic infrastructure priorities, which this year is proposed to include several road repaving projects.
One of those, in Ch’ng’s Northwood ward, could include the installation of Thunder Bay’s first roundabout at the intersection of Victoria Avenue and Lillie Street.
“It’s new for Thunder Bay but not necessarily new infrastructure in terms of how it functions,” Ch’ng said. “I’m looking forward to hearing what people have to say about that and just trying to help administration stickhandle this so people feel safe and they understand what it does.”
The second meeting of the budget review process, scheduled for Thursday, will allow the public an opportunity to come forward and provide their opinions to council. Councillors can propose amendments to the budget at meetings later in the month, with final approval expected on Feb. 4.