Alex Nuttall is already getting his political ducks in a row.
Nuttall, 36, who’s running for Barrie mayor in this fall’s city election, says he has identified four important issues on the campaign trail leading to the Oct. 24 vote, which will also elect 10 ward councillors and school board trustees.
The former Barrie councillor (2006 to 2014) says affordable and attainable housing, the increase of violent crime, ensuring the city has ample job opportunities, and holding the line on taxation are his early priorities.
Nuttall voices a familiar theme that the process of approving and building new housing must be quickened to increase supply and make it more affordable.
“Obviously when you have (rent of) $1,800 for a one-bedroom apartment, that becomes just not viable,” he told BarrieToday. “When you think of the seniors, especially single seniors…the housing supply in Barrie is just not affordable. Neither is it attainable.
“I think there’s a real opportunity for the city to work with the market, to work with (Simcoe County), to find ways to make sure that these type of developments and these types of housing are moving in a very quick manner," Nuttall added.
The Building Industry and Land Developing Association recently gave Barrie the best score across 18 Greater Toronto Area (GTA) municipalities for moving projects through the approval process, but Barrie still has approximately 19,000 units of housing that have been approved in Barrie but not yet built.
So Barrie is processing applications quickly?
“In the broader context, yes, but approved and permitted or approved (and) site-plan approved are different items,” Nuttall said. “As they’re going through zoning and zoning is applied to height, dimensions, number of doors, etc., there’s a long way to go between that and a built home.
“Some of it is prioritization. Making sure as projects are coming through there’s a prioritization of those that provide for affordable, attainable housing,” he added. “What we can do at city hall is push as hard as we can.”
As for an increase in violent crime, Nuttall was questioned whether it is an issue in the city. Barrie is rated as having the lowest 2020 Violent Crime Severity Index (VCSI) in Canada, according to Statistics Canada’s annual analysis. The city’s crime rate dropped 33 per cent during the last decade, compared to the rate for Canada as a whole, which dropped 14 per cent.
“When you look at this past weekend, there were multiple violent crimes. Some included minors,” said Nuttall, who also served as Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte MP from 2015 until 2019.
A male teenager was seriously injured in a suspected stabbing in Barrie’s Johnson Street area Saturday night. The 16-year-old was taken to Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH), then airlifted to a Toronto-area trauma centre. City police have not provided any updates.
“One of the things with Barrie being an extension of the GTA is we’re also starting to see… an increase in the number of guns and gangs,” Nuttall said. “As a city, we need to make sure we’re wary of what’s coming here.”
He also said Central North Correctional Centre (CNCC) continues to drop off those just out of custody from the Penetanguishene facility in Barrie, which is a continuing problem.
“We need to work with the province to stop the practice of where we’re not just taking care of our own, helping them come back into the community, helping them back into society, but we’re taking care of a whole bunch of other cities as well,” Nuttall said. “The process of being left high and dry at the Barrie Transit Terminal cannot be one that we allow to continue.”
He said it’s no coincidence there is human trafficking and drug dealing in that area.
City transit staff said in January that, pre-pandemic, an average of three bus tickets per day were sought by individuals who had been released in Barrie from the Penetanguishene superjail, and were seeking to leave the community. The city does not receive information on the total number of people released from CNCC into Barrie.
As for job opportunities, Nuttall says Barrie has as many as 45,000 people coming to live in the former Innisfil land, upwards of 45,000 new people coming through intensification in those nodes, around transportation hubs and the downtown.
“We’ve got a lot of growth ahead of us in terms of residential and a lot of capacity there. We don’t have the same capacities set aside for jobs,” he said. “What I hear is properties that can be developed taking nine months to go through draft plan of subdivision (approval). That’s something that somebody needs to earmark and needs to work on aggressively to ensure that those jobs are created.
“Not just the construction jobs of building these industrial areas out, but the actual long-term jobs that are available for Barrie residents for the future."
Nuttall, who was born in Liverpool, England and came to Barrie in 1989, said there’s also an environmental impact to local job creation.
“The No. 1 thing that the city of Barrie can do to improve our carbon footprint is to take so many of the vehicles that leave everyday (for the GTA) off of the highway and have the ample jobs, not just for Barrie, but for quite frankly the surrounding areas,” he said. “Because we are the urban centre for much of Simcoe County.”
And finally, taxes.
City council approved a 2.94 per cent property tax increase in 2022, which includes 0.75 per cent more for dedicated infrastructure renewal funding, used to replace and renew Barrie’s roads, pipes and buildings. The 2.94 per cent increase is a blended number, for municipal and education taxes.
Nuttall said the first thing he’d want is a value-for-service review to ensure the city services being offered are being done on a value basis.
“There’s always places we can do better,” he said. “We should be striving to do better on the efficiency of dollars spent on the services that we deliver.”
Nuttall said that between 2014 and 2022, there has been a 53 per cent increase in real tax dollars collected by the city for operating costs.
“These are major increases in real tax dollars,” he said. “At the same time with that 53 per cent increase… we’ve only had somewhere around a seven per cent increase in population.
“(I would) work with council, work with staff, work with the finance department to ensure that there’s a sound fiscal plan put in place for the city… that balances both investment in the community and ensuring that everything we’re doing in terms of social investment, physical infrastructure investment is done in the most effective and efficient manner possible,” Nuttall said.