THUNDER BAY – Two major blueprints that will likely set the direction for the city over the next few years are under development.
The strategic plan that will guide the current term of Thunder Bay city council and next year's municipal budget were the subjects of a public input session, which was attended by nearly as many members of city administration as members of the general public, was held Tuesday night at the Italian Cultural Centre.
The strategic plan feedback will be presented to council in the coming weeks and factor in to the finalization of the four-year plan, while the pre-budget planning engagement will help inform the planning process for the city's next spending plan.
Thunder Bay city manager Norm Gale said the strategic plan, which remains in the draft stage, has been worked on by council also immediately from the start of their mandate through a series of non-business meetings.
"The strategic plan, as established and finalized by city council, directs administration in our efforts for things like bringing reports and bringing issues. It informs the public as to what the goals and vision for city council are, and helps keep city council on track with what their mission is," Gale said.
"This is a different strategic plan. This will be the fifth strategic plan and this is different in two key ways. The first one, is it's streamlined and it's simpler. There are more finer points as to what the goals of council are so it's a simpler document. It's also at a higher level. It's more of a strategic document and there are fewer details to the implementation of the strategic goals."
The draft plan is built around four pillars – lead, serve, build and renew. Some specific objectives include constructing a new multi-purpose indoor turf facility, conducing an independent review of the city's programs and services, seeking advice from Indigenous partners to deepen approach to reconciliation and developing an asset management plan.
The city is in the midst of one of those objectives, with the upcoming initiation of an external review of its corporate operations, after council earlier this year approved conducting a comprehensive review of programs and services. That exercise is expected to produce a first phase report for council ahead of next year's budget deliberations.
"We haven't done an external review like this in decades. It does implicate our work – administration's work – in preparing the draft budget," Gale said. There is uncertainty – what may the consultants find and what may we find in working with the consultants – so it complicates our work and it's daunting but certainly not impossible and it's necessary work."
The city will also be going ahead with a separate organizational examination of Thunder Bay Fire Rescue, ahead of the preparation of a new strategic plan for the department.
The city's request for proposal identified opportunities for cost containment as a key objective, which has prompted concerns from local firefighters that the department could be facing cuts.
A group of local firefighters were among the few dozen members of the public in attendance on Tuesday night.
"I'm concerned they're going to be looking to cut emergency services and I don't want to see that happen," firefighter Darren Smallwood said.
"Emergency services constitute a large portion of the budget and I understand why that makes it a target but they're an essential service and they need to be protected."
Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce president Charla Robinson said she is encouraged the city is going ahead with a core services review, a process that she acknowledged has been demanded by the business community for a significant amount of time.
After Gale outlined pressure the city will likely feel during next year's budget process, predicting it will be a tougher year than most with declining revenue received from the provincial government and increased expenses from adjustments to provincial and municipal cost sharing agreements, Robinson said the review is especially prudent.
"It's basically a total change in how they look at budgeting is what's going to be required and I think will be an important piece for that conversation," Robinson said. "I think they're showing the foresight. We knew last fall during the election that there was potential for this kind of situation after the government changed provincially. They're showing the foresight. They showed the foresight this spring, knowing that they're going to have some challenges ahead and they're putting pieces in place that will help them to address those challenges."