THUNDER BAY – Members of the public are urging city council to give them one more chance to have their say before the proposed municipal budget is ratified.
A trio of speakers appeared before Thunder Bay city council on Monday night, calling for the reinstatement of the post-budget public deputation session that had previously been part of the budget review process.
Council could approve the city budget at their Wednesday meeting, though there’s a significant chance it will look a lot different than the proposed budget brought forward by administration as a starting point.
A $1.08 million ask by the Thunder Bay Police Service for additional funding to address recommendations from the Office of the Independent Police Review Director report, if approved by council, would drive the total municipal tax levy increase to 3.69 per cent.
In response, city administration has been tasked with providing options to slash more than $3 million from the proposed budget to come in with a levy hike of 2.05 per cent.
City manager Norm Gale had warned councillors that “the public will be alarmed and will wish to weigh in” when council gave the direction to find the savings. Recommended cuts to achieve the reduction have not been made publicly available.
“For council to pass a city budget at the 11th hour this Wednesday, without themselves knowing never mind the public not knowing what it contains until that time and not allowing the public post-budget consultation, is unconscionable,” said Henry Wojak, a former mayoral candidate and frequent council critic.
“I also ask that city council return any favourable budget variance from 2018, which was projected to be $3.6 million, back to taxpayers by way of credit on their property tax bills.”
The 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.
Frank Armiento, who has previously ran for a council seat and is a familiar face in the public gallery at city hall, agreed with Wojak.
“This was always a good time for the public to speak after council reviewed the budget – not before – because we don’t know what you’re going to do,” Armiento said.
Armiento also questioned council’s decision to establish a standalone reserve fund solely dedicated to the pursuit of a new multi-use indoor turf facility, arguing there are more important priorities.
“The money set aside in the new reserve could be used to rebuild Dease Pool, which seems to be a bigger concern in the community,” Armiento said.
Ron Balina, who said he’s a senior, demanded a budget with no tax hike and specifically encouraged council to reject any increases to the police budget.
“We are paying a ridiculous premium for a benefit we do not use very often – the police services,” Balina said. “The vast majority of the population never need their services. Crime is crime. It’s been here since the beginning of time and it changes like the weather. It goes up and down. More boots on the ground have proven not to be the working solution throughout North America.”
The city’s tentative budget review process schedule identified Wednesday as the date for the financial plans to be approved, with ratification following on Feb. 4.
City administration told council that they could decide on either of those dates if the budget is approved on Wednesday to schedule a separate session at a later time to receive public feedback before it is ratified.