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Mayoral candidates crunch the numbers on taxation

While Barrie mayoral hopefuls have different approaches to local property taxes, most agree they would keep city's 1% infrastructure levy

One of life’s certainties is also a major issue in the campaign for Barrie’s next mayor, who will be elected Oct. 24.

Property taxes aren’t going away in the next four years. The only question is how much more must be paid, when and at what cost to city services.

As a way of differentiating their election platforms for city voters, BarrieToday asked the seven candidates for mayor what would be a reasonable increase, if any, in each of the next four years.

If something has to be cut from the budget, in terms of costs and/or services, to meet a property tax level the candidate could support, what would that be?

And what should happen with the one per cent dedicated infrastructure renewal funding, or levy, which helps pay for the replacement and renewal of Barrie’s roads, pipes, buildings, etc.? Should it stay as is, or be fair game for cuts like any other expenditure?

The answers from Barry Ward, Alex Nuttall, Mike McCann, Gerry Marshall, Andrew Gordon and Weldon Hachey are below, printed in the order they were received. Rob Haverson did not respond.

“A reasonable tax increase is as close to zero as city council can get it, without cutting the services our residents value,” Ward said. “For example, we could reduce the amount we spend on snow plowing, but Barrie residents don't want to see less service.

“We will continue to look for efficiencies in everything the city does and some projects may have to be delayed because we don't want to add to homeowners’ financial burden during these challenging times of inflation and higher interest rates, when household budgets are already being stretched," he added. 

“One challenge is that much of our budget — about 40 per cent, excluding school taxes — is beyond our direct control because we are billed by our service partners, such as police, Simcoe County, the health unit and the conservation authorities," Ward said. "If they present us with large increases, it would force us to reduce our services to keep the tax increase down."

Ward says he would keep the one per cent infrastructure levy.

“The condition of roads is one of the most frequent complaints we get; we should be adding to our roads budget,” he said.

Nuttall says inflation is hitting Barrie residents hard, so now is not the time for increasing taxes and digging into residents' pockets.

“I plan to hold the line on property taxes, so that Barrie residents can breathe a little bit easier,” he said. “Freezing expenses such as recreational user fees, especially for seniors, will help alleviate the pressure residents are feeling and will help combat the higher cost of living.

“I will work with our internal auditor and value audit to find efficiencies in the budget that don't impact service and go from there,” Nuttall added. “With my background in finance, I look forward to moving the city forward so that we can come up with a plan to tackle the affordability issues that residents are facing.”

Nuttall says he would maintain the one per cent infrastructure levy to complete much-needed infrastructure work in the city. 

“The infrastructure levy is incredibly important,” he said. “There are so many streets in the city that require immediate attention and have needed attention for years. Throughout my platform and the campaign, I have committed to fixing the roads and I intend to make that a priority following the election.”

McCann says property taxes are always a hot topic.

“Many residents I have met feel that they do not get value for the dollars that they pay,” he said. “I plan to change that. Through my leadership, I will ensure that we have a third-party complete a review of our major services, to assess costs and seek efficiencies. 

“Through the service reviews we will be able to find the dollars to fix more roads, add additional resources for police, install photo radar at all elementary (and) high schools, create a safe and welcoming downtown, and attract higher paying jobs," McCann added. 

McCann says he has a proven track record for finding savings and generating revenue, citing the review he requested for the Barrie Simcoe Emergency Services Campus capital budget and championing an increase in waterfront parking rates for non-Barrie residents.

“In addition, we will continue with the one per cent infrastructure levy to ensure our roads are kept in a good state of repair,” he said. “My commitment to the residents of Barrie is to keep our taxes below the typical cost of inflation with a vigorous goal of one per cent for 2024, 2025 and 2026.”

Marshall says he would work hard with council and staff to reduce any proposed departmental increases as much as possible without adversely affecting the services that residents require.

“Property taxes are a difficult undertaking,” he said. “A balancing act that needs to seek out an appropriate balance between our need to deliver top quality public services and minimize the tax burden being placed upon homeowners. Council must also keep in mind that we cannot increase taxes to a point where they would hinder our business community from being competitive.”

Marshall says his priority would be budgets that find both short- and long-term savings. 

“I will work with council to pass budgets that do not materially impact public services for the people who rely on them and that can, excluding the one per cent infrastructure levy that I would keep, maintain a two per cent or less change in property taxes each year,” he said.

“If the budget needs to be trimmed, I will not make life more difficult for residents that utilize city services. I would argue against any reductions to transit, to library accessibility, to recreation and cultural opportunities that would disproportionately impact those who have no other alternatives,” Marshall added. 

“If budgets need to be trimmed, I will be seeking reductions in non-service impacting items such as consultant fees and marketing. I would prioritize ‘need-to-have’ items over nonessential ‘nice-to-have’ items.”

Gordon says he would address property taxes a different way.

“I will not increase them; they will be reduced or, at the bare minimum, frozen,” he said. “I’m going to negotiate better prices for everything the city spends money on. The tender bid process will be changed and the city will set the price on every job, not the company bidding on the job.”

Hachey says city finances need to be reviewed. 

“The last thing people want are property tax increases,” he said. “My goal is to go through our books and see how our tax dollars are spent and ensure things are streamlined and efficient. Everyone who works for the city should be able to work together to review their departments and find ways of improving areas that cost us too much time and manpower.

"I will be having an open-door policy and having meetings every month to listen to our constituents. I want to make sure we work together and do our best for this city," Hachey added. 

“I have expressed that we have a large number of tourists who come to our beautiful city. I would like to discuss with citizens about keeping tourists parking on our outskirts and having a shuttle bus system in place. Improving our waterfront. Creating businesses and encourage hiking, biking, water sports, fishing and many other things we will offer will bring in tourist dollars," he said. “Helping us build infrastructure and grow without tax increases."

This year’s blended municipal and education property tax increase is 2.94 per cent and includes 0.75 per cent in dedicated infrastructure renewal funding, which equates to $2.2 million this year.

In 2021, blended Barrie property taxes increased by 0.92 per cent; this broke down to 0.67 per cent for city services and service partners and 0.25 per cent for infrastructure funding. These numbers were low so Barrie homeowners could better cope with the pandemic’s financial impacts.