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Mending fences

A week after the city's mayor called a report on city spending by the local chamber of commerce irresponsible, the two are now working on mending fences.
: Mayor Keith Hobbs delivers his state of the city address to the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce at the Da Vinci Centre Wednesday morning. (Jodi Lundmark,

A week after the city's mayor called a report on city spending by the local chamber of commerce irresponsible, the two are now working on mending fences.

After his state of the city address to the business community at the Da Vinci Centre Wednesday, Mayor Keith Hobbs said the disagreement is like any family spat.

"When you have two passionate groups - the city is passionate about the city, the chamber is passionate about the city ... You're going to collide heads once in a while," he said.

While the mayor still takes exception to some of the numbers in the chamber's report, he acknowledged some of the positives the chamber pointed out about the city as well.

"They're a good partner of ours and it's a little blip on the radar as far as I'm concerned, a bump in the road and we're good," said Hobbs.

The Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce released a report called An Analysis and Forecast of the City of Thunder Bay's Municipal Finances on Jan. 17 that states the operating costs for city hall are higher than the average in 20 of 27 categories compared to other Ontario and northern cities.

It also says property taxes are among the highest in Ontario. LU business professor Camillo Lento said if nothing changes, homeowners could see tax increases of around 7.9 per cent over the next four years.

Last Tuesday, the city issued a news release stating the report is distorted and based on incorrect assumptions.

Both the city and chamber have met twice to review numbers and chamber president Charla Robinson said they'll be meeting again next week.

She said the meetings have been productive.

"When you're having that kind of a discussion, sometimes there's some challenging moments but really positive discussions, being able to look at both sides of the issues, understanding their concerns and their side and them working to understand the business community's side," she said.

The mayor annually gives the state of the city address to the chamber and Robinson said it's an opportunity for the business community to hear straight from city hall on what they're planning.

She was pleased to hear the city recognizes the need for long-term growth planning, but said the business community is concerned about the ongoing increases in the city's operating budget.

"We know that infrastructure investments are very important to the long-term success of the community. However, the ongoing increase in operating costs is a concern because it's what we all pay for," Robinson said.

In his address, Hobbs spoke how taxes have decreased over the last four years and the projection for 2014 is also a decrease of 2.96 per cent for both residential and commercial properties.

However, the mayor said the city can't control what the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation does and properties can still be re-assessed at a higher value.

"I think we're on a good path," Hobbs said, noting the city's infrastructure spending has doubled in the past four years.

"We had such an infrastructure gap and yes, people don't want to pay the taxes, but if you want the city to look fine and you want your roads improved, you have to pay for it unfortunately," he said.