Barrie budget puts fire station on hold

UPDATE: Council is schedule to adopt, change, revise, discuss or not the budget approved by general committee last week. As this is the only item on the agenda, it could be an early night for council.

General committee approves a 2.63 percent tax hike, down from 4.4 percent, but improved fire services for southwest Barrie deferred

by John Devine
City Scene Barrie

Residents in the southwest part of Barrie will have to wait until next year for fire response times to improve to city approved standards.
As part of the budget deliberations that produced a 2.63 percent tax hike, down from 4.4 percent, general committee deferred spending on an interim fire station and 20 new firefighters to staff it, saying the station wouldn’t be ready in time for use in 2011.
The Fire Master Plan says additional firefighting resources are needed as soon as possible to improve response times; the city has set a standard of having 10 firefighters on the scene of a call within 10 minutes, 90 percent of the time. That’s not happening in the southwest part of the city.
Ward 7 Coun. John Brassard, chair of the Master Fire Plan committee, said he is frustrated by the delay. He had hoped an interim station would have been operational by the fall.
“The Master Fire Plan report concluded that a station was needed immediately to address the response time concerns in a large area I represent,” he told City Scene Barrie.
“Council committed to purchasing a vehicle for the station, starting the hiring process at the end of 2011, which should put us in a position to open the station in late spring or summer 2012. In the meantime, city staff will be looking for an interim station location, after having completed the design which was approved in 2010 by council.”
The decision allowed committee to defer the $2.2 million cost of the interim station, which includes staffing costs, to next year. The funds for the station have been added to reserves.
The fire department’s budget is increasing by more than $1 million to $18.1 million, and committee did approve a new pumper truck, at a cost of $650,000.
The tax hike translates into an additional $88 for a home assessed at $261,000, making the 2011 tally for that home $3,448. When first presented the budget produced a 5.4 percent tax hike. However, updated numbers presented a 4.4 percent increase, which committee cut to 2.63 percent on Monday night.

The budget, as presented, had three elements: 1) a tax rate based operating budget, 2) a user rate based operating budget, 3) a capital budget.
The first was based on keeping current services and service levels stable, as well as implementing council decisions, including: salary increases, new positions approved in 2010, the downtown theatre, the relocation of POA/MLP services and the new fire headquarters on Dunlop Street.
The budget also included $2.8 million in new spending for council’s consideration on a case-by-case review, including the interim fire station for southwest Barrie, a new transit route and additional staff to support growth and intensification.
The second, user rate based operating budget, deals with water and wastewater rates approved in 2009, which included fixed increases to cover escalating costs. This portion of the budget, according to the document’s executive summary, also takes into account the “long range financial plan approved in June 2010 which was required under the Safe Water Drinking Act to move toward a full cost recovery approach to providing these services.”
Operating budgets for this area have been impacted by the development of the Surface Water Treatment Plant, and the expansion of the Water Pollution Control Centre.
“The impact of the proposed water and wastewater rate increase on a typical household consuming 180 m3 will be $38 and $50 respectively for a combined impact of $88 on an annual basis.”
As proposed, the capital budget came in at $125.4 million for 2011, and a total of $381 million over the four-year life of this council. The projects during this term were developed with a focus on addressing the city’s most critical renewal needs as identified by the Business Risk Exposure Model, as well as the most critical areas that require additional capacity to address service level deficiencies.”
Looking beyond this council, the city’s capital plan envisions an additional $1.5 billion in needs from 2015 to 2020.
According to the summary, the capital plan “was developed to ensure that the first four years are affordable and executable by deferring a substantial number of critical projects.”
The additional years, 2015 through 2020, were added to give council a sense of capital needs on the horizon.
“This provides the opportunity for council to develop fiscally responsible plans that maintain desired levels of service at acceptable levels of risk while addressing future asset renewal and additional capacity needs of the community.”
The police budget took a $400,000 hit, coming in at $41.6 million. The Police Services Board had put forward a budget of more than $42 million, a hike of 9.73 over last year’s budget. Salaries and benefits account for 88.64 per cent of the budget. Also included is the hiring of ten new officers and four civilians.
In a letter to city clerk Dawn McAlpine, and distributed to council, Douglas Jure, chair of the board, says that calls for service increased 5.8 per cent in 2010.
“Our request for ten additional sworn police officers and four civilian staff reflects our desire to maintain service levels and continue to introduce operating efficiencies.”
Of the new staff, three of the ten officers would be assigned downtown, one to each of the service’s four platoons, two would go to the criminal investigations unit, and one to the community services’ unit. The civilian hires would bolster the information technology unit and the administrative needs.
An additional 22 municipal employees were requested for various city departments, however committee trimmed the wish list by cancelling some positions and holding others for review.
Committee also trimmed more than $3 million from the operating budget and used $1.3 million of the city’s $4.9 million surplus to help bring in the lower increase.
“We put $3 million in reserves as part of the budget leading up to (Monday) night. We were then advised that for a variety of reasons we would be posting a surplus of approximately $4.9 million. Most of that was related to one-time savings and not recurring savings. (Committee) used about $1.3 million of that … against one-time items in our operating budget, however it still meant at the end of the day we added about $6 million to our reserves,” said Ward 6 Coun. Michael Prowse, chair of the city’s finance committee.
While committee surgical trimmed here and there, it wasn’t all about cutting. Some additional spending was added to the budget, including $75,000 to the events budget. The extra money will allow the city to spend on a name act to headline the Downtown Countdown, the City’s New Year’s Eve celebration.
The director of culture, Rudi Quammie Williams, had suggested doing away with this expenditure, and instead focusing on local talent. Mayor Jeff Lehman cast the deciding vote.
Two new parks, Summerset and Sandringham, also made the list for 2011, moved forward from 2012. A new dog-off-leash park, which will be the city’s second, was also added.
The city’s service partners added a significant chunk to the budget:
• The Royal Victoria Hospital requested $16 million of the $52.5 million the city had pledged to help with the hospital’s expansion plans.
• The Barrie Public Library budget request came in at $5.8 million, an increase of more than 10 percent from last year. The library’s new Painswick branch ($946,000) accounts for about seven percent of the increase.
The County of Simcoe provides a number of regional services: museum and archives, the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), Ontario Works, child-care, homes for the aged, social housing, land ambulance. Total request for this year is $21.7 million, down from last year’s $24.2 million.
The ODSP funding request is down 85 per cent over last year, from $4 million to $608,000. However, other costs are up: homes for the aged sees a 23 per cent increase, from $704,000 to more than $1 million. The big-ticket items are land ambulance, at $5.2 million, a nine per cent increase, and social housing, about $5 million, nine per cent more than last year.
The major reduction, however, comes from a change in the way the province is funding Ontario Works.
The Lake Simcoe Conservation Authority wants $1.1 million, a nine percent increase, while the Nottawasaga Conservation Authority has requested $310,982, an eight percent increase.
Georgian College has requested $1 million, 50 percent more than last year. The Simcoe County District Health Unit is asking for $1.6 million, a five percent increase.
The city gets about 70 percent of its revenues from taxes and service charges, with the rest coming from various government grants and subsidies. The residential sector provides nearly 80 percent of property tax, while the commercial and industrial sectors provide the other 20 percent.
At the end of the budget deliberations, a number of councillors praised staff for presenting a detailed, organized document, and had kind words for the process.
“I have been through, I believe, seven or eight budgets now and I can tell you that this process is light years from where we were just a short time ago. I know that council had all the information to make well-informed decisions,” said Prowse.

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