Tax information and city spending

Had a few requests through Twitter for information on Barrie’s property tax levels compared to other cities.   Here’s a link to a study of all Ontario municipalities that compares tax rates – pages 212 and 219 are probably the most relevant for those wishing to compare how much homeowners pay in property tax in Barrie compared to other cities, but to save you the trouble, here are the key numbers.  Barrie’s taxes are below average compared to other medium size cities in Ontario.

 

For an average detached bungalow (smaller home):

Barrie annual property taxes: $3,033

Survey average (27 cities over 100,000 population): $3,378

Survey average (all 79 cities): $2,995

For an average executive home (larger home):

Barrie annual property taxes: $4,996

Survey average (27 cities over 100,000 population): $5,931

Survey average (all 79 cities): $5,659

 

 

Here’s a recent letter to the editor I wrote regarding City spending and taxes:

When staff recently reported cost pressures that could lead to a 5.8% tax increase in the 2014 budget, Council supported my motion to reduce that to 2%, along with six specific actions I have laid out to cut spending.

New capital spending this year was reduced by more than 50% from 2012, and refocused on the repair projects that are needed most in our City.  Council has also cut debt and deferred projects, and as a result, our independent auditors recently reported that the City’s 2012 net debt is $11M less than forecast.

On salaries – Barrie’s new collective agreement with its police personnel is being held up across Ontario as an example of the restraint needed in the public sector today, by ending the banking of sick days.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Barrie City Council is taking a two-year pay freeze, and all of Barrie’s senior staff voluntarily froze their own pay – the only city anywhere I’m aware of that has done that.

Frozen executive and political salaries.  Ending bankable sick days.  Capital spending reduced, and refocused on critical renewal work.  Forecast debt reduced.  This Council is (finally!) making the tough decisions needed to cut costs. 

 

Here’s an email I recently wrote to a resident about taxes:

I am very aware of the impact of tax increases – of bill increases of all sorts! – on those with fixed incomes.  I’ve spent the better part of seven years now, every year, making cuts to the budget to limit them, out of my awareness of how hard it is for some to afford those increases.

Although we have had tax increases every year in Barrie since 2001, in fact, we have been able to limit these to between 2.3 and 3.3% for the last seven years.  As you may have read in the newspaper, I recently moved a motion at Council to target 2% flat for this year.

While 0% would be nice, of course, the City pays for the same cost increases as everyone else out there – you should see what our gas bill is like, let alone our power bill.  So without at least a small increase, every year, we will have to cut services to some extent.  We are always on the lookout for efficiencies or waste that can be cut, but this rarely totals in the millions of dollars (a 1% tax increase is about $2million in revenue).  We also have a lot of roads and pipes to maintain, and for too many years, these have been left to rot.  We’re trying to do at least a little more on this front.

Now with growth in the City, you would expect that the City’s revenues would go up.  That’s true, but unfortunately, so do costs!  With all those new homes comes new roads to plough and maintain, new pipes to maintain, new parks to maintain, and demand for more police, fire, etc.  We do what we can to reduce these costs, and in particular, to change how we grow so we’re not sprawling so much on the edges of the city, which is the most expensive form of growth.

The City must constantly work to reform the way we deliver services if we are to keep up with growing demands.  But to ensure we were delivering services as efficiently as possible, in 2011, I asked for reviews of 6 City departments who’s metrics were not performing in terms of cost for service or revenues. These reviews have resulted in a net $2M in fiscal benefit (mostly cost reductions).  But the work will need to continue.

One other thing.  When I was a Councillor, I convinced Council to start a program where anyone over 65 can defer their tax increases until they sell their homes.  This is not something everyone wants to do, but it does mean that no senior ever need be taxed out of their home in Barrie.

You may or may not agree with the above but I hope it at least explains my position – which is the city should not have 0% increases, as these are irresponsible, but should do everything it can to limit tax increases to about the rate of inflation (2 to 3% most years, lower right now).