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County comes calling for more cash from Barrie at budget talks

County requesting another $2.49 million, or 8.5% more, for Barrie’s share of its operating and capital costs; 'This year’s budget was built with the idea of restraint through it,' says official
Barrie City Hall.

Barrie is being asked to dig deep to pay its share of services provided by the County of Simcoe.

The county is requesting another $2.49 million, or 8.5 per cent more, for Barrie’s share of its 2023 operating and capital costs. The total increase is to almost $31.95 million from close to $29.46 million last year.

“This year’s budget was built with the idea of restraint through it,” said Trevor Wilcox, the county’s general manager of corporate performance, at last night’s budget presentation to Barrie city council.

“We have reduced where we can reduce, we have deferred where we can defer, in alignment with what is happening with our economy and the idea that now we have to slow down demand related to supply as the Bank of Canada’s encouraging all of us to do," he added. 

The county supplies the city with land ambulances and paramedics, health and emergency services, Ontario Works, children’s services, social housing, long-term care (LTC), seniors services and community services, which includes homelessness.

“I think the goal should be that homelessness is rare, brief and non-recurring,” Wilcox told Barrie councillors.

Capital costs are driving this increase to $8.6 million from $6.45 million, or 33 per cent more.

Capital projects that Barrie is contributing to this year include the Simcoe Manor redevelopment in Beeton, the Georgian Manor LTC bed expansion in Penetanguishene, affordable housing projects in Barrie, Orillia and Bradford, and vehicle replacements for the county’s paramedics services.

But Mayor Alex Nuttall said he has a problem with how Barrie will fund its share of county social housing developments in Barrie, Orillia and Midland during the next five years. Barrie’s share of the $180-million to $200-million capital cost for these projects is about 25 per cent, or as much as $50 million.

There is also uncertainty with provincial Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act, and its effect on development charges, which could have helped Barrie pay its social housing capital costs.

“We have a significant capital program from the county,” Nuttall said. “I grew up on social housing here in the city of Barrie, there’s nobody who’s a bigger fan of it, I've got to be terribly blunt with you on that, but there a significant capital program which I recently understood the development charges would be responsible for (paying).

“There’s a massive liability when it comes to social housing,” he added. “There’s a huge liability to fund it.”

Barrie’s share of the county’s operating expenses are also increasing, although at a smaller rate than capital costs. They are to increase by 1.6 per cent this year, to $23.4 million from $23 million.

Paramedic services costs to Barrie are increasing by 6.2 per cent this year, to $7.4 million from $7 million. Simcoe County has 17 paramedic stations and seven posts.

A net of two more paramedics are being hired, increased fuel and insurance costs, along with in-vehicle cell phone and automated external defibrillator (AED) replacement are helping drive this increase. 

Ontario Works costs are to climb by 10.3 per cent to $4 million from $3.7 million.

Social housing costs are to drop by 1.7 per cent, to $5.1 million from $5.2 million, but Simcoe County Housing Corporation (SCHC) costs are to increase by 11.8 per cent to $2.5 million from $2.3 million last year. SCHC delivers rent-geared-to-income housing. The county also operates four LTC homes with 544 beds.

Community services costs to Barrie, which include preventing homelessness, are increasing by 10.1 per cent this year to $1 million from $934,000. The county helps fund Barrie’s four emergency shelters with 143 beds, plus nine overflow spaces, for a total of 152 — along with 50 beds at the temporary Rose Street shelter.

There is also $100,000 more in 2023 for warming centres and Barrie’s 14-unit, supportive housing facility on Tiffin Street is slated to open this spring.

Barrie also pays its share of operating costs for Simcoe County Museum and Archives, along with Lake Simcoe Regional Airport.

County officials have done a service review and its results will be available this spring.

Deputy Mayor Robert Thomson said he would prefer that social services be results-based.

“Mayor Nuttall and myself were out Christmas Eve, delivering meals,” he said, “and had a lot of great conversations with some of the people at the facilities. The services they were looking for, or the assistance they were looking for, were not being provided.

“They were spinning their tires, they were losing hope and these services are supposed to give people the opportunity to get back to what they are, what they’re capable of," Thomson added.

The County of Simcoe’s budget request is part of Barrie’s annual budget.

City homeowners are facing a 3.95 per cent property tax at this stage in the 2023 operating and capital budget process. This would mean $182 more for a typical Barrie home assessed at $365,040. Its taxes last year were $4,612.

Adding $182 would make this year’s property taxes on that home $4,794. This breaks down to $2,694 or 56 per cent for city services, $1,541 or 32 per cent for the city’s service partners (city police, County of Simcoe and Barrie Public Library) and $559 or 12 per cent for education.

Barrie’s annual city budget sets service levels, along with the taxes and fees to pay for city services, as well as water and sewer (wastewater) rates.

On a typical household that consumes 180 cubic metres of water annually, the bill was $374.25 last year. With this year’s 3.7 per cent increase, which is worth $13.75, the 2023 water bill will be $388.

Last year’s sewer bill of $532.46 is slated to increase by 5.0 per cent, which is $26.54, for a 2023 total wastewater bill of $559 - again on that typical household consuming 180 cubic metres of water annually. 

Increases in property taxes, water, sewer all add up to $222.29 more for Barrie residents living in a typical home assessed at $365,040, at this stage in city council’s budget process.

Property taxes are calculated based on the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation’s (MPAC) assessed value. MPAC last did a province-wide assessment in 2016, so these property values are significantly lower than actual 2023 market values.

Barrie councillors are scheduled to begin budget deliberations Feb. 8-9 and the budget could be considered for final approval by city council at its Feb. 15 meeting.

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Bob Bruton

About the Author: Bob Bruton

Bob Bruton is a full-time BarrieToday reporter who covers politics and city hall.
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