North Bay City Council has approved the 2023 general operating budget by a 9-2 margin. Referred to in deliberations as a "placeholder" budget, this council is already looking ahead to 2024 and the promise of the much-discussed and anticipated operational review.
Citing inflationary pressures, skyrocketing natural gas and fuel costs, ongoing revenue shortfalls related to impacts resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, and with no wiggle room when it comes to contractual obligations, Deputy Mayor Maggie Horsfield's budget team endeavoured to find efficiencies without reducing service levels or dipping further into reserves.
"All in all, the 2023 budget was an important milestone in this Council’s term and a step forward to where we want to bring the City during our tenure," said Horsfield, the budget chief. "Over the next several months, Council and staff have committed to bringing in an Enterprise Resource Plan (ERP), conducting an operational review to identify KPIs (key performance indicators), performance measurements, efficiencies and areas of improvement; and reviewing financial policies and the budget process to better align with Council’s goals."
During Tuesday's regular meeting, Mayor Peter Chirico thanked the council members and staff who worked on the budget and reiterated his support for the process and the resulting 4.61 per cent levy increase while also looking ahead to the completion of the operational review.
"I'm quite pleased to hear that we are going to review that budget process. We're going to review a lot of the policies that we have. There is a mood of change that has been there since the beginning of this council's swearing-in and we're carrying forward with that. Although sometimes it doesn't happen as quickly as we would always like it to happen, there are reasons behind that.
"I'm buoyed by what we've done to date with this budget," Chirico continued, "although it is bolstered by reserves this year — and this year alone — while we can tackle the issues we do have around the city, we will get through those and we will make those changes. I am confident of that. And, under the deputy mayor's leadership, that is true to what she believes."
Councillors Mark King and Tanya Vrebosch voted against the operating portion of the 2023 budget.
"I don't wish in any way to undermine the work done by council," said King. "Although I'm not prepared at this point to support the increase — I'm not prepared to support any increase — that was a promise I made to the voters in October. I won't support any municipal tax increase and I have no choice but to stand by my word."
The 2023 budget includes gross operating expenses of approximately $153.1 million and an overall tax levy of approximately $105.8 million, an overall increase of $4.7 million or 4.61 per cent over the 2022 levy of $101.1 million.
In 2022, the final budget of the previous council's term, the levy increased by 4.27 per cent over 2021. The 2022 budget included gross operating expenses of approximately $146.4 million with an overall tax levy of approximately $101.1 million — a levy increase of $4.1 million or 4.27 per cent over 2021.
The annual tax bill for individual properties is dependent on assessed value and the tax rate, which will be set by council at a future date. Using the estimated tax rate after growth provided by the finance department, the estimated taxpayer impact is a 3.23 per cent increase in tax bills. The forecasted change per $100,000 in the assessment of your home is $47.35 for 2023. For example, if your home is assessed at $300,000, your tax bill will go up three times $47.35 (per $100K of assessment) for an increase of $142.05.
The budget process saw the requests for financial support by several organizations denied. Public budget talks opened with a 5.77 per cent increase, and later in the process, facing a 5.5 per cent levy increase with talks winding down, the majority of the council approved the further use of $890,000 in reserves, in addition to the originally planned $1.4 million, to lower that number to the final 4.61 per cent.
The approved budget maintains municipal service levels and provides continued support to partners including the District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board, North Bay Police Service, North Bay Public Library, Capitol Centre, Cassellholme, North Bay Jack Garland Airport and North Bay-Mattawa Conservation Authority.
The $30.2-million capital and $13.8-million water/wastewater budgets passed unanimously on Tuesday.
The community and recreation centre project has been split from the main budget pending the completion of the tender process and council direction. It has a tentative budget line of $21.8 million. The City has also proposed to use $1 million of the OLG casino revenue to pay down the eventual arena debt.
Operating budget highlights:
- Support for increased staffing at the North Bay Police Service
- $40,000 in additional support for Clean, Green, Beautiful North Bay and Communities in Bloom
- $16,000 to extend transit service to Couchie Memorial Drive
- Continued support for DIA/Downtown security.
- Expansion of community programs including event hosting and other community co-ordinated events
Capital Budget Highlights:
The net general capital budget and water and wastewater capital budget total $44 million will allow the City to continue to make investments in infrastructure.
General Capital Budget
- $3,600,000 for ongoing asphalt resurfacing program
- $1,750,000 for the ongoing Cassellholme redevelopment
- $1,712,497 for the construction of new sidewalks on transit routes
- $1,600,000 added to the Main Street rehabilitation project
- $1,078,000 for McKeown Avenue widening between Gormanville and Cartier
Water and Wastewater Capital Budget
- $5,120,500 for Wastewater Treatment Plant intake chamber replacement
- $1,756,000 for Wastewater Treatment Plant - structural repair
- $801,640 for ongoing watermain rehab and restoration
- $539,000 for Wastewater Treatment Plant expansion
- $490,000 for Digester Replacement 490,000
- $392,000 for Roof Rehab at the Wastewater Treatment Plant
Council also approved the City of North Bay’s share of the District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board’s 2023 levy in the amount of $13.63 million plus its $79,025 share of the DNSSAB’s Healthy Communities Fund.
Council also approved the City's share of the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit’s 2023 levy of $1.63 million.
Council opted to keep the City's property tax hardship program operating in 2023 but it will operate with a reduced available budget of $100,000, down from the previous $300,000.