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).

About jefflehman
Jeff Lehman is the 46th Mayor of the City of Barrie. The Ward 2 Councillor for the City of Barrie from 2006 to 2010, he was the Chairman of the Finance Committee of Council, chaired the City’s Growth Management Working Group, and created the Historic Neighbourhoods project, a new initiative to protect and revitalize Barrie’s oldest neighbourhoods. Jeff has lived in Barrie for most of his life, having grown up in Allandale and attended Barrie Central Collegiate. Jeff holds a B.A. from Queen’s University, and a Master’s Degree with first class honours from the UK’s prestigious London School of Economics. He was hired to teach at the LSE following his graduation, and lived and worked in London for two years as an academic. Since that time, as an economist, he has worked with cities across Canada to manage redevelopment and invest in their urban infrastructure. In 2005, he established the Growing By Degrees Task Force to assist in expanding university education opportunities in Barrie, and has volunteered his time with many organizations in the City. Jeff lives near Downtown Barrie with his wife, Jennifer, a part-time professor of political science, and their young daughter Cassie, who is already smarter than her father.

Comments

9 Responses to “Tax information and city spending”
  1. Anna says:

    Dear Mayor,
    I am a business owner, located in downtown Barrie. I’d like to make a few comments and suggestions. First from reading this article on property tax, I do believe what you are saying is true. I do believe that taxes are necessary for a well functioning city, and that with your economic background trust that taxes are being kept to a reasonable minimum. It does sound like you are effectively maintaining the city’s budget. So for the topic, keep up the good work.

    The suggestions I have are based off your comment in the article regarding the continued growth and hence cost for the city. Of course this is true, the larger the city the higher the cost of maintenance. However I have noticed a few things which may seem unimportant, but fixing the little things would really help society without being a large financial burden. As a business owner my experience leads me to believe that it is in the details that things transcend ordinary and become successful. First, on the 400 going north the essa exit is labeled as downtown Barrie. From my understanding downtown Barrie should be the Dunlop exit or perhaps Bayfield. But essa, you get off the 400 and where would you be? Nowhere pretty or exciting. I would suggest changing the signs, perhaps even put up more signs locating various key locations within the city.

    Second Downtown Barrie isn’t the most friendly. We see junkies all the time, drunks and convicts. From my understanding a prison let’s off their newly released inmates at the bus terminal just off Dunlop street. It’s easy to turn a blind eye to this, but it does hurt business and the city’s financial growth. I don’t know the proceedures for this, however if the stop can’t be rerouted to perhaps a larger city like Toronto (where they are more well equipped to deal with people with specific needs), than an alternative is to build a half way house at the edge of town- some place away from businesses and local population but have access to transit to get to the places and things they need. The methadone clinic, not helping either but I have no suggestions for that. I think as a whole downtown Barrie (dunlop and high st. to dunlop and mulcaster) is a wonderful place. Great water view, cute small town mentality, the last major city before hitting cottage country. I really do like Barrie, but don’t understand why the city is being further built up in the south end and not promoted in the best of its qualities. The vision I get with Barrie’s downtown is similar to queen street and university area. I invision it as the entertainment district. The drunks, not much can be done about drinking, who doesn’t enjoy a beer, I wasn’t happy to hear about the restrictions the restaurants were being held to, when applying for there liquor licensing. Drinking, nor the bars are the problem. I think the problem lies in the lack of diversified interests. People are board so they drink and do stupid things like drugs. I do actually believe that this field is being covered by your office. There are concerts, events, fairs and more all located in the downtown area. I would like to thank you for those, they are well appreciated. Promenade days, where Dunlop is closed off, so people can walk through…hmmmm…not a fan but i think bars/clubs in the area might be benefiting, in which case I’m not apposed. Back to the idea that Barrie might have a drinking/ drug problem. I think a university(which haven’t been following up on the latest updates but heard of the exciting possibility) and continued efforts to educated the public of good clean fun, and perhaps diversifying. Pottery class, mixed martial arts, a well equipped gym, large book store…if all placed downtown, I think there would be less drunks and more creative people. Although as mayor or even politicians you cannot open the businesses yourselves, promote to idea. Find suitable location and give incentives to these businesses.

    Third, university. The higher paying positions of professors and other such careers, plus the higher level of education will influence students in high school to keep at their studies and make more of themselves. Students drop out of high school because in part you don’t need to graduate grade 12 to get into college, but it is necessary for university. Second the influx of university students from across ontario-at the least- will boost the overal general idea of education, ultimately raising the standard for education. Please keep trying to get a university in Barrie.

    Ok I think I’m done. This was a speratic message done in the moment, but are on topics that I have considered. I hope you think my suggestions were useful.

    Sincerely Anna Doulatshahi
    Co-owner of,
    Unique ink custom tattooing

    Ps. Forgive the grammatical errors, and general ranting of the message. I’m writing this on an unfamiliar device. Editing the text is difficult thus…sorry. Please still consider my thoughts.

    • Jane Blogs says:

      I think blaming people that have served their time is wrong. They have at least payed their debt to society. The reason you may not be getting good business is your location. That is the costs associated with parking down town which is expensive and very inconvenient. It is a simple problem with a simple solution and there is no reason to get distracted or point fingers at people that are truly not causing the problem in the area.

      We need to be LESS hostile against people who drive. There needs to be a balance. Simply providing FREE parking will do wonders to your business as it will then become far more accessible to the public.

      Now I am pro education BUT it seems that education today is no guarantee that you will get a job and hold it. When there is nothing but retail and food service in the town then how would a bachelors degree in anything do any good?

      Drop outs have declined over the years since the Harris/Eves days but its sad that those who are well educated STILL cannot gain employment where one can earn a living wage. Knowing this alone how then can we pay for any more tax increases. We simply cannot. We will default in the end and the city has to bear the cost of the debt and no one else as they are in the belief that the population is “growing” despite the facts

    • Ken says:

      Well said. You have a lot of great ideas. Perhaps local politics is in your future 😉

  2. Jane Blogs says:

    The problem is with your article is that you are basing it on growth when there is none. Sure that increase is only 2 to 3%. BUT that ADDS up when you INCREASE it EVERY single year. Simply freezing wages and ending bank sick days at this part of the game is too late and then there is the obvious waste that goes along with it that, when cut out, there would be NO need for any increase.

    Lets look at the facts. You have “deferred” the development to lake shore it seems. That is a wise and common sense approach. However, why even have that project at all in the first place? Simply maintaining lakeshore is needed AND cheaper. The police have been on a hiring binge every year which could be frozen given the decline of the actual population, even if you disagree with that fact.

    Council has frozen salaries, but did you take a cut in your wages? Why not? The average citizen of Barrie now makes minimum or just above minimum wage. If you think these tax rates are fine for us then you too should be able to survive AND have savings with less than $2000 a month and that includes paying property taxes, car payments and a mortgage. That is what the average citizen in Barrie brings home and don’t forget they even get taxed on that income at the end of the day. Costs do not just go up with growth. SMART growth pays for the costs in itself. Just allowing home builders to build with no industrial revenu and lack of high wage paying jobs is NOT smart growth. Neither is allowing a call center (telemarketers) or a “data center” to saturate the market along with nothing but retail.

    The average person thus cannot sustain your debt that you have driven. Yes infrastructure repairs are needed and cannot be cut. However, that should have been calculated in the tax raises that have been implemented since 2001 as you even have recognized.

    Why is your gas bill or hydro so high? Do you know what the average citizen does to lower those bills. They do a lot and they do not have a funding reserve to back them up either.

    Yes I do not agree with you. Its bad math and simple bad economics. a 0% increase IS responsible. Just going with your hand out for yet another 2% each time when we have already paid through passed increases puts people in jeopardy and is in fact taxing people out of their homes as they simply cannot afford your debt

    You claim to be an “economist” during the last election. However your figures do not match the reality of the situation. This goes beyond the rate of inflation and is showing reckless spending. It is that simple. I am sure you have your reasons. The human brain is great at reasoning itself out of its problems. However, simply raising taxes year after year after year, when those past taxes have already taken into account of such expenses is simply irresponsible. Its time you accept reality. Barrie is not growing and the finances that you have posted along with your own reasoning reflect t this. Its time a 0% tax increase is implemented and you truly start to cut costs on your end as you have not thus far. You need to take a wage cut along with council. Shrink the police force and stop spending on new toys that are not needed or sending them off on erroneous calls such as “noise complaints”, making the complainant pay for such a call. Simply cancel the lakeshore project outright and cut out the frills such as the arts. We are not a city, we are a town, a suburb of Toronto and part of the GTA. We are lucky enough to have such a thing as a water front and festivals that we can at least make money during the tourist season. It is up to us to watch our dollar and not expect others to pay for our own mistakes in misspending

  3. Jane Blogs says:

    So in closing. You have your reasons and your opinion which you have the right to have. HOWEVER. You do not have the right to get me or other Barrie residents to pay for your opinion on the subject of growth. If you feel it is necessary. You can pay out of your own pocket. But simply generating excuses to state that we HAVE to pay the 2% and we are forced to pay without any alternative is simply not acceptable or doable

  4. Robert Viera says:

    Could you post the link to the study of tax rates referred to in the first paragraph?

  5. Barrie Resident says:

    While you have a right to your opinion, I strongly disagree. Lets look at the facts. Is a 0% tax increase irresponsible? The answer is no. What IS irresponsible is any tax increase when we have had nothing but tax increases since 2001, which you yourself have noted in your own article.

    While Barrie did go through explosive growth during the 1990’s. It hasn’t been this way since the turn of the century. More so when we shut out big industry for a loud minority of citizens coupled with your tax increases Yes you have implemented a wage freeze for you and council but have you taken a pay cut? Try living off 2 thousand a month, with a car payment, mortgage and necessary debt to pay the bills and your property taxes which does not seem to fix the roads that do need fixing.

    How do expect the average citizen here to pay for your tax increases when we have nothing but a “call center” (telemarketers), a data center (an office full of machines) and nothing but retail and fast food?

    Your claim would be then that we need to cut services. Then what about all those other tax increases in the past that are far and above the rate of inflation?

    It was wise that you deferred some plans such as lakeshore. But really, if you cannot afford the frills those things should not even been on the table and canceled out right. Lakeshore needs basic maintenance, such as resurfacing and that is all. It does NOT need to be moved back. Just canceling that saves us millions in debt, cutting the arts is yet another way.

    When it comes to the police. They take a large amount of our property taxes and have hired new officers year after year. Why not implement not only a highering freeze but issue cuts as well? The fact is that houses does not equal growth. Industry does. Just building houses will not equal more people. The annexed land should be for light to heavy industry so we can provide better jobs here. Heck even a theme park would do wonders here.

    Why are your gas and electricity bills so high btw? The citizens of Barrie has to make do with much less given the expenses levied on our head due to your spending.

    The bottom line and the plain fact is that ANY increase in taxes is not only irresponsible. It is not doable. Simply pointing ones finger at other towns and cities will not change this fact. You might as well raise it a 110% because either way, the good citizens of Barrie cannot pay for it. It is time you and your fellow council really start cutting back rather than look for a way out with the average tax payer here to pay for “growth” that simply is not there.

  6. Concerned resident says:

    While you have a right to your opinion, I strongly disagree.  Lets look at the facts. Is a 0% tax increase irresponsible?  The answer is no. What IS irresponsible is any tax increase when we have had nothing but tax increases since 2001, which you yourself have noted in your own article.

    While Barrie did go through explosive growth during the 1990’s.  It hasn’t been this way since the turn of the century.  More so when we shut out big industry for a loud minority of citizens coupled with your tax increases  Yes you have implemented a wage freeze for you and council but have you taken a pay cut?  Try living off 2 thousand a month, with a car payment, mortgage and necessary debt to pay the bills and your property taxes which does not seem to fix the roads that do need fixing. 

    How do expect the average citizen here to pay for your tax increases when we have nothing but a “call center” (telemarketers), a data center (an office full of machines) and  nothing but retail and fast food?

    Your claim would be then that we need to cut services.  Then what about all those other tax increases in the past that are far and above the rate of inflation?

    It was wise that you deferred some plans such as lakeshore.  But really, if you cannot afford the frills those things should not even been on  the table and canceled out right.  Lakeshore needs basic maintenance, such as resurfacing and that is all.  It does NOT need to be moved back. Just canceling that saves us millions in debt, cutting the arts is yet another way.

    When it comes to the police.  They take a large amount of our property taxes and have hired new officers year after year.  Why not implement not only a highering freeze but issue cuts as well?  The fact is that houses does not equal growth.  Industry does.  Just building houses will not equal more people.  The annexed land should be for light to heavy industry so we can provide better jobs here.  Heck even a theme park would do wonders here. 

    Why are your gas and electricity bills so high btw? The citizens of Barrie has to make do with much less given the expenses levied on our head due to your spending.

    The bottom line and the plain fact is that ANY increase in taxes is not only irresponsible. It is not doable.  Simply pointing ones finger at other towns and cities will not change this fact.  You might as well raise it a 110% because either way, the good citizens of Barrie cannot pay for it.  It is time you and your fellow council really start cutting back rather than look for a way out with the average tax payer here to pay for “growth” that simply is not there.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking about this article...

*


Got a question or comment for City of Barrie staff?

If you have a question or would like to provide feedback to a City of Barrie department please use the online contact form located on the City of Barrie's website: http://www.barrie.ca/info/Pages/ContactUs.aspx