Our Future Depends on Decisions Now

When my three year old daughter grows up, I want to leave her a Barrie that is stronger than today.  That means a city with a stronger economy, and with governments able to afford the services she will depend on.  And that future depends on good decisions today.

From Greece, to the USA, to here in Ontario, clear messages have been sent to governments who are living beyond their means:  improve your finances, and have the guts to make tough decisions, or you face economic disaster.

 In Barrie, Council heard this message – but we had heard it already, several years ago.  Improving the city’s financial condition has been a key aspect of City budgets for the past four years.  The city’s financial condition will need many more years of prudent decision making to push it onto a better course, but the good news is that through better long-term planning, careful cost control, and most of all, doing business differently, our financial health can be restored.

As one example, Barrie has in recent years incurred significant debt to fund major projects.  Few cities avoid issuing at least some debt – Mississauga, one of the longest holdouts against debt, recently issued the first debt in its history.  However, although a prudent amount of debt is reasonable and often necessary, limiting the amount of additional debt that will be required in coming years is now a critical step for Barrie. 

Through the course of last year, two major steps were taken.  First, by changing the timing and funding plan for the police facility, Council removed the need for about $20M in debt.  Second, the 2011 and the 2012 budgets together reduced forecast debt by about $7M in total.

Controlling operating costs is crucial.  In April, I asked Council to approve conducting service reviews of 6 city departments.  These reviews were conducted in 2011 and have identified half a million dollars in savings in 2012, and up to $2M of annual, ongoing savings in 2013. 

This year, Council had to make the very tough decision to close two under-used city facilities.  These closures are painful and are a loss of services to those who use them, however few in number.  I don’t like that they are closing and I hope we are able to use the next six months to find partners to continue to offer some of their services on site.  But in times of restraint, tough decisions must be made.

Yet against these savings, we have also been told clearly by our residents that some services need improving, such as road maintenance and public transit.  While cuts have been made to underused facilities and services, there are also new services being provided as the city grows — including additional road resurfacing work, and the foundation for improvements to Barrie Transit.  No tax increase is acceptable without being able to clearly show what residents are getting for their money, but the tax increase this year has been targeted at the priorities residents told us are key.

Standard and Poors (S&P), the company now famous for downgrading America, also reviewed Barrie’s credit rating a few months ago, and reaffirmed our credit rating on the strength of our long-term financial plan.  Sticking to this plan – by making sometimes tough, potentially unpopular budget decisions – should be the standard by which Barrie residents hold Council accountable.

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Comments

4 Responses to “Our Future Depends on Decisions Now”
  1. hardy stockley says:

    I think Barrie is moving in the right direction as a city.
    one area where we could improve is getting people informed on when new projects are completed.
    two project that important trying figure out the status on are both south end project so guess where i live, the library and BMC dolra where are these projects in time lines for completion.
    trying to find these answer are difficult important sure the answer are out there in the web pages for city hall i just can’t find them.
    keep up the good work you really are making a positive change in Barrie and yes some really tough decision that not everyone like but that’s what you signed up for and we elected you to do good work keep it up.
    Hardy Stockley

  2. I take comfort in the fact that Barrie’s leaders know what needs to be done and are working towards it. There still remains much untapped potential, much of it requiring a certain amount of risk capitol. I was at the new Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls on the weekend. An impressive facility. Over 1600 people from across the province were keeping the tills of hotels, restaurants and other merchants ringing over the weekend in a city that is otherwise comatose at this time of year.

    With Barrie now on the radar with major Canadian Banks as a choice location for its data centres we should be boldly promoting Barrie’s prime potential as a future convention destination to them. I can think of a few in town locations that would accommodate a full scale convention centre. In addition to hosting conventions, what better location can you name in Ontario for boat, cottage, sports or home shows? The spin off business would be significant for Barrie.

  3. Albert Brum says:

    It is true that governments today are living beyond their means and indeed that we have been trying to outline this when it comes to Barrie. But are we being listened too? As mike has pointed out with such things as banks, restaurants and merchants all struggling to make ends meet as they depend on industry to provide localized products to help sustain their economy and unfortunately cannot since such industry today do not exist anymore and must now rely on importation just to exist and ironically compete against. This has driven the low wage paying jobs with no benefits to a new scale. Along side that our “leaders” in Barrie have yet to cut any red tape so that industry can grow here rather than abroad. The cost is no support to the local economy.
    With the ever increasing property taxes with decreases has lead to people like mike above who plays in the realty field, to profit in the housing market when people no longer can afford to be here. Toronto Commuters end up taking on the supply side where said realtor takes on inflatable and questionable profit.

    Barrie has fallen off the radar, not counting the Mr Reeves love child or other such nonsense and this is sad to see. It will take a lot more than an ambiguous “data center” to turn this around and that must be something that can create an industry of energy that can export its goods and services.

  4. Ernesto says:

    I hardly comment, but i did a few searching and wound
    up here Our Future Depends on Decisions Now | Mayor Jeff Lehman’s Blog.

    And I actually do have a couple of questions for you if it’s allright.

    Is it just me or does it give the impression like
    a few of the comments appear like written by brain dead
    visitors? 😛 And, if you are posting at additional sites, I’d like to keep
    up with anything fresh you have to post. Would you make a list of the complete urls of your community sites like your twitter feed,
    Facebook page or linkedin profile?

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