As expected, the turnout was low for the first of two scheduled 2020 budget open house sessions organized by the City of North Bay last evening.
The idea is to give the public an opportunity to ask city staff questions and maybe make suggestions as a kickoff to budget talks.
“We always want more people to come out than there are staff here, but it is hard for people that are working and have kids and are trying to make it work,” said budget chief Tanya Vrebosch.
“That is why we have the open house because we have a duty to have a public presence, but we also have email. Last year we saw an influx of emails coming in. It is email@example.com so people have that opportunity to do that as well.”
Every year something new comes along to challenge the budget.
“Right now, the pressures are the unknowns coming from the changes at the provincial level. Until the ABC’s, agencies, boards and commissions really get a handle on what these changes mean, it is really a crystal ball we are dealing with right now. That could have a real effect on the final number for the budget this year,” said Vrebosch
“The boards are really going to have a challenge this year to work within their budget. I’m meeting with all the chairs and executive directors of all the agencies, boards and commissions over the next couple of weeks just to see where they’re at, what they are forecasting if anything at this point.”
Information the city is getting from the province indicates the OMPF (Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund) will remain the same which is good news for the city.
“There is a cost to growth, but we also talked about year one and two being investment years and catchup years from trying to put the money back into capital from previous years,” said Vrebosch.
“Years three and four will hopefully be the years we recoup those funds through assessment and growth. However, when we have any challenges such as the potential changes within provincial funding, that is the stuff that could throw a wrench in our plans.”
Vrebosch says good things are happening in the community.
“We are seeing the growth. People are building and we are announcing new companies. The only thing is, you don’t see the benefits from it until after they’ve built and are operational. “
The city says there is still time to make council aware of any needs or wants.
“The actual budget will be tabled October 17 with council. That is when we start all the long meetings that will take us into December where we meet several times a week in the evenings and staff are doing their presentations, “explained the budget chief.
“We do public consultations at council meetings, so again we have three months of budget scheduled and lots of time for people to have their input as well. So, as we continue through the process, we’ll make people know where we’re at.”
North Bay Mayor Al McDonald says good ideas have come from open houses.
“We want the public to let us know their hopes and dreams, ideas and suggestions. We’ve used a lot of their ideas from previous interactions and engagements like this. You look at the twin-pad arena, you look at the Active Transportation Plan that was put in place,” said McDonald.
“So, there are a lot of good ideas that come out but there are ideas obviously that we can’t implement for certain reasons. It could be a budget reason, it could be a regulatory reason, but we do listen, and we want to hear what they have to say.”
As a taxpayer Bobby Ray attended the open house to ask questions of city staff and find out more about the direction the city is headed.
“I just have a general interest. It is good to be informed on what is happening in the community that you live in. I also volunteer on a couple boards, so I feel it is the responsible thing to do to come down, look at the materials and ask questions and absorb.”
The second and final open house is scheduled for tomorrow (Thursday September 12) from 6 to 8 p.m. at Memorial Gardens.