North Bay city politicians are aiming for a tax levy increase of about two per cent in 2018.
Council kicked off the budget process during a meeting Thursday to discuss preliminary numbers and set out targets for next year’s tax hike.
“There was a consensus to look at different options to get us as close to two (per cent) as possible,” said deputy mayor Sheldon Forgette, noting the jumping-off point for delivering the same level of service as this year is approximately 5.5 per cent.
Forgette said that figure takes into account financial contributions toward capital projects such as the proposed replacement of West Ferris Arena and redevelopment of Cassellholme Home for the Aged, as well as anticipated cost increases associated with WSIB New Experimental Experience Rating (NEER) surcharges and recent legislative changes related to Post Tramatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“At the end of the day, there are a number of options available to get as close to two (per cent) as possible. And, it’s my sense the rest of council doesn’t mind exploring those options,” said the deputy mayor, noting council will be taking a look at the capital budget to see if there are areas where spending can be reduced or projects that can be deferred. “We have to make some decisions about how we are going to fund these projects.”
He said the city also has the ability to increase debt or dip into reserves, although funds earmarked to help cover NEER surcharges were significantly depleted last year.
Forgette said the legislative changes recognizing PTSD as a presumptive occupational illness for first responders will be a key cost pressure during the deliberations.
He said it’s unfortunate that some police officers and firefighters are affected by PTSD and acknowledged how the city has a duty to support them.
“But it does impact the budget,” said Forgette, noting much of the discussion will likely focus on whether the cost of claims should be built into operational spending or funded through reserves.
The deputy mayor acknowledged that this round of budget deliberations could become even more political in light of a provincial elected slated for 2018. But he said the plan is to see the budget passed before the end of this year.
“I hope it doesn’t get too political,” said Forgette, noting council has an ultimate responsibility to ensure the city continues to operate effectively.
Capital budget discussions are expected to take place in October, while committee level deliberations related to operations are set for early November.
In the meantime, Forgette said residents interested in weighing in on the budget can send suggestions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. He said residents are also always welcome to contact council members directly.