A Plan to Fix More of What We’ve Got…and Grow Smarter

Last week, Council gave initial approval to a development strategy that will guide the way Barrie grows for the next 20 years. By 2031, Barrie will be home to 210,000 people and 101,000 jobs.  This plan, years in the making, includes six infrastructure master plans for the whole city, plus a new financing strategy to pay what seems like a dauntingly large number:  $3.1 billion in infrastructure over 20 years.

This plan is fundamentally different from the last plan, in the 80s, when almost all growth was on the edges of the city. This is a plan where nearly half of the growth is within the existing urban area, and much of the infrastructure investment is also within the existing city.

As Councillor Brassard put it, we’re essentially building two cities the size of Orillia—one within Barrie’s old borders and the other in the former Innisfil land. This is a huge undertaking for our City, and one that carries a significant cost—which brings me back to the 3 Billion dollars.

In terms of annual spending, 3.1 Bn over 20 years is about $155 million a year. These costs are not just for the cost of growth, but also to fix our existing infrastructure. The $155-million annual price of the strategy will cover capital expenditures, which include $90 million for growth and $65 million for infrastructure renewal (road reconstruction, replacing water and sewer pipes, etc.).  Our current annual city capital budgets are in the $130-million range, of which $30-$35 million is infrastructure renewal. So this plan doubles what is spent on infrastructure renewal, will help us to do a lot more of what our residents want—fix aging roads, pipes, sidewalks, and buildings.

It’s no surprise that growth comes with a cost, but I don’t believe that our existing residents should have to pay for it, and the certainly doesn’t have the fiscal capacity to do it. This is why we will be asking the development community to make an extra contribution.  It is asking a lot of developers, but it’s the only way it’s going to get done. What we’re asking is not unprecedented, but it is new for Barrie and is the right thing to do.

To be clear:  developers already pay a lot.  In fact, they pay most of the costs of growth.  They also – especially many members of the Barrie Homebuilder’s – do incredible charitable work in our community and are pillars of our community.  Ultimately, higher City charges are passed on to new homebuyers, who will see homes get more expensive as a result of higher city fees.  But without them, the City would need to either borrow money, or bring in very high tax increases, to fund the infrastructure.  Both of those actions will also drive up the cost of home ownership.

So we will also need the federal and provincial governments support. Over the next 10 years, Barrie will hopefully be successful in securing senior government support, including drawing on the new $70 Billion dollar Federal infrastructure plan, which we will be pursuing in the coming months.

This plan has been three years in the making, and to this point, the development community and the City have worked collaboratively, very well together.  That needs to continue, to get the land use, infrastructure, and financing plans across the finish line.  That will be good for the economy, good for business, and good for the taxpayer.

Our City was once again given a stable rating from Standard and Poor this year, and we intend on maintaining it—regardless of growth. We will grow and develop while paying down our debt. In 2031, Barrie will be a City of 210,000 people who all have access to safe drinking water, a clean and healthy environment, walkable neighbourhoods, connected communities and convenient access to transit with manageable debt and tax levels. I think we have a very good plan—one that provides us with a roadmap for growth and how we will afford it over the next 20 years. It requires creativity and support from our development community and governments, but it is definitely achievable and will ensure smart and sustainable growth for the future of our great City.

For more on the plans for growth, click here.